I am a big fan of your blog. Thanks for all that you write. I was actually pointed to your blog by my former boss (a good boss) who took a lot of interest in helping me to develop at my previous company…until about my last year there, where her focus shifted elsewhere.

That’s why I started the job I am in now–plus it got me back to the industry I want to continue building my career in, which is pharma.

Now, I am dealing with a boss who doesn’t understand what it is that her team does all day and therefore, cannot provide constructive feedback or guidance. Please note that this is not the person who I originally reported to when I began working here, but there has been quite a bit of tumult and restructuring in the last year and I have landed in her purvue. In addition to not providing direction, she also passes most of her work down to me. And it is unclear, even to people around me that at her level who have made comments to me about the situation, what she is doing on a day-to-day basis. My frustration level is at almost a 10, and I need help in managing up.

Can you point me in the direction of a blog you may have posted on this subject? Or, if there isn’t one, can you consider writing on this topic?

Enter your name and email address below. No spam. Unsubscribe anytime.

11 replies
  1. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    The first rule of thumb when you don’t like your boss is to realize that there are no bad bosses. There are just people you can deal with and people you can’t. Unless your boss is breaking the law or screaming at you at work, your boss is not bad. You are bad at dealing with your boss.

    Here’s why: your job, everyone’s job, is to make their boss’s life better. That’s how work is. That’s why you were hired. A job description is a red herring – everyone’s real job is to make their boss’s life better. Whoever their boss is.

    Everyone in the world, including bosses, have weaknesses. The way to make your boss’s life better is to find her weakness and help her compensate for it. (Life lesson: that’s actually how to make anyone’s life better. It’s how I’m making your life better right now :)

    So, your boss does not like doing the work, she likes managing the work. She is probably not good with detail, she’s good at big picture. You can make her life better by being great with detail and getting all the work done quickly so you have more time to help her. Get very good at managing your time and prioritizing and get the work done faster than she could have imagined. The tell her you have more time to help.

    Here’s the great part: she will love you for this, because her weakness is actually doing the details of the work. So she will be open to you saying “this is what I’d really like to be learning right now. So could I take on project x so I can learn more?” She will say yes, because you are dedicating your days to helping her, so she will want to help you. It’s human nature.

    The biggest issue is that you need to change your attitude. Either your are on your boss’s team or you leave. You will never do well in a job if you are not dedicated to making your boss’s life better. Your boss controls your work flow, so she has a lot of control over the quality of your daily life. Either get on her good side or change jobs.

    But warning: the people who are most successful at work are able to get on the good side of anyone by having a deep understanding of a wide range of personalities. This understanding allows you to show kindness and empathy in an authentic way even to the most low-functioning of bosses

    Here’s a post on the topic:


  2. Jen
    Jen says:

    This is some of your best advice. I would add that managing a difficult boss successfully can elevate your corporate value significantly. My current EVP boss is loved by our international board, but disrespected by all the executives in our US office. My success in managing up, and compensating for his weakness (in this case due diligence, forecasting and considering “worst case scenarios in his business plans), has earned me a high degree of respect from our executives and has resulted in them requesting my help on a number of high profile projects. I’ve managed to make my boss look good while making myself a valued business leader.

    If other executives see you doing work they believe your boss should do that only makes you look great. This is particularly true if you do that work with a positive attitude. When executives compliment me on my ability to manage my boss I just smile and say it’s all “part of the adventure.” I’ve found that phrase is great for acknowledging what you are doing without a hint of complaint.

  3. Deborah Hymes
    Deborah Hymes says:

    This is great advice — and perspective — and I know it’s true from my own experience. However, I had a work situation like this a few years ago and when I (instinctively, intuitively) did as you recommend, she became threatened and worried that I was being perceived/groomed as her replacement. Even though I truly had no interest in her job, and was crystal-clear with her on this point, she still made my life hell until I finally left.

    It was a smallish-to-medium-sized company, so fairly easy for everyone to see other people’s strengths & weaknesses. Do you have any advice for how to manage a jealous/threatened boss? Or maybe that’s a whole other Mailbag question . . .

  4. Steph
    Steph says:

    Thanks, Penelope. Good news, I do make my boss’ life easier and although I shared with you that my frustration was at a 10–to her and the people around me, I continue to be a happy worker bee. She does love me, and she routinely highlights my going above and beyond to other members of my team (I assume, in hopes that they will do the same). The problem still remains though that when I have expressed a desire to grow, learn and work on X project as you suggested–she tells me I am too busy for that. So, while I agre with your sentiment that it is my job to make my boss look good (and I do a damn good job of that), it doesn’t appear to be getting me anywhere. Thanks for the advice!

  5. Penelope Trunk
    Penelope Trunk says:

    Okay. That’s great that your boss is liking the work you do for her!

    So as long as she’s happy, you can go to someone else in the organization and ask to be on projects that will help you. You can say you have extra time and you will stay late or whatever – which you can only say in the office if your boss is very happy with you.

    And don’t just think about projects that will help you grow, but also people. If you find someone at the office who is really good at mentoring people and helping them grow, you can offer to do anything for that person, just to spend time with him or her so that they can help you move yourself to a good spot for you.


  6. Steph
    Steph says:

    Thanks, Penelope. I do really appreciate the advice. And since I have been a fan for so long I am also psyched you responded to me! (I know, I’m a bit of a dork). :) Have a great weekend!

  7. John
    John says:

    Dear Penelope, your advice is right on the money, my boss is as you described he is good at the big picture , not so much into details, our work actually compliments each other as I am a detail orientated person.
    Around six months ago he started giving me tasks without any brief on how he. Wants them done, reports , presentations for the senior management etc, till now he is very happy with everything I have prepared for him even down to doing the regional analysis for the P&L …..

    I know that these tasks are not within my job description and I also know some of the things he asks me to do are because he does not know how to do himself.

    I took these tasks on as a challenge to myself in addition to my regular responsibilities , I have never asked for anything in return, although I made it clear to him from our first meeting that I am looking for my career development and the next step….

    I recently discovered that he has been highlighting my abilities to the senior management an next week I have an interview with a couple of the companies directors for a new regional position where the company believe my talents could be better utilized….

    My belief is that if you make yourself indispensable you will get the recognition and good things will come. So far it has worked for me.

  8. ShyShutterbug
    ShyShutterbug says:

    I read through all the comments on this post and got curious to ask this. I see that my boss has recently got into a lot of work and keeps absorbed all the time in the meetings etc. He delegates the work he does not want to spend time with (like creating business case studies, giving updates to client and so on) I am experienced to work on technical aspect of job and want to continue to take responsibilities towards this. Since my communication abilities are being appreciated I was approached by my boss to become a client communication interface for a project. After this, I feel I have been taken for granted and my work is been delegated to other team members making me free. My question is “free” to do what? There is no future responsibility or project shared with me. Neither am I given a clarity on what I shall be taking up. I feel my simplicity is compromised as I am expected to work behind the scenes and no credit is been given to me for this. I feel being a part of majorly thankless job. If I was appraising myself, my profile would fall to be in average category as most of the hardwork I do feeds my boss’s work and not team projects. I am very uncertain if talking frankly about this with my boss would change anything.
    Please advice. Thanks in advance!

  9. Ian
    Ian says:

    “…there are no bad bosses”. What a ridiculous statement. Of course there are bad bosses. A good boss efficiently and effectively communicates expectations and defines roles amongst the various resources at their disposal. Blaming the subordinate for a boss’s ineptness is a cop out and your entire “your job is to make the boss’s life easier” is lunacy. Your job is to add value to the organization and if a boss is distracting or complicating this objective via mismanagement or incompetence this is an indictment on them and not you. A good boss puts employees in positions to succeed in conjunction with that boss not in spite of them. How this premise alludes you is amazing and you are doing your readers a grave disservice by feeding them this line of misinformation.

  10. Les
    Les says:

    Thank god for a bit of sanity against this “there are no bad bosses” and “my job us to make my boss’s life easy”. Let’s face it: these guys / managers are dorks. They’re probably good at technical aspects of their previous job, and good at kissing ass. But, know nothing about managing people. Man up, tell these guys where to get off and call their bluff. Stop being victims.

Comments are closed.