Unfortunately, an all too common aspect of our working lives is dealing with difficult people - whether it’s your boss, a colleague or a competitor, most people at some point in their career will come across a difficult personality.

In particular, it can be hard to stay motivated at work when you don’t get along with your managing supervisor.

here are 5 challenging bosses, and how you can stay motivated if you work for one of them:

A woman looking over her colleague while working
A woman looking over her colleague while working

1. the micromanager (aka the boss who has control issues)

You know, they can't delegate a task to save their lives and spend more time breathing down your neck and double-checking your work than actually getting their work done.

how to stay motivated:

  • Try to gain their trust by asking them to take on a small project outside your current responsibilities.
  • Throughout the project, provide up-to-the-minute information about the progress of the project. Showing you can perform well without supervision whilst still giving your boss reassurance that they are the one 'in control' may help them see that you are more than capable of handling tasks unassisted.

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2. the ghost (aka the boss who is never there)

Just as demotivating as a Micromanager - but on the opposite end of the spectrum - sits the 'ghost' boss. These managers give no guidance, often leaving their staff to run whole projects unassisted, only to swoop in at the last minute and criticise the work produced.

how to stay motivated:

  • The trick to dealing with a ghost boss is almost becoming a micromanager yourself! When given a task, be assertive and ask for clarification on exactly how your boss would like the project to be carried out.
  • Provide a follow-up email that documents all essential tasks and responsibilities discussed, and throughout the project, provide regular email updates on the progress with any questions highlighted.

This means that when it comes to completion, your boss will not be able to re-neg on what was initially agreed. If all else fails, look into possible mentors from other areas within your organisation.

3. the credit thief (aka the boss who takes all the credit for your hard work)

This boss loves the limelight - usually, the first to put their hand up during project meetings and bask in the attention - yet when it comes down to doing the actual work, they are also the first to make themselves scarce. This disappearing act magically reappears regarding project completion to take credit for a well-done job.

how to stay motivated:

  • Whilst it may make you uncomfortable, the best action here is to take this up directly with your boss. In your next WIP, start by asking, 'How can I get credit for the work I did on projects x, y and z?' (instead of directly accusing them of stealing the credit).
  • Gauge their reaction - chances are, if your boss reacts positively, you can be assured that they were probably unaware they were stealing the credit in the first place. If you receive an adverse reaction, tread carefully.

If your boss doesn't make positive steps outside of your meeting to address their action, the next step would be to look outside your current working team and try to network & gain visibility within influencers of your organisation.

4. the office politics ringmaster (aka the boss who chooses favourites upon whom they bestow special privileges)

This boss has never really left high school. They routinely gather their closest allies into whispered meetings or invite their 'group' to social events outside of work.

When the time comes to choose someone for an exciting new project, you know the person your boss picks will be someone from the 'A' team - not you.

how to stay motivated:

  • Short of sucking up to your boss, you need to show them your skills and abilities.
  • Keep yourself front and centre in their mind by excelling at the tasks given to you, putting your hand up for projects which most people reject, and continuously reminding your boss of your value as an employee.
  • Send a monthly email detailing your key wins for that period and asking for guidance on any areas in which you may need help. By remaining in your boss's peripheral vision, you will soon be seen as an integral and critical team player within your organisation.
Woman and man sitting at a table with coffee. Having a conversation.
Woman and man sitting at a table with coffee. Having a conversation.

5. sir-emails-a lot (aka the boss who lacks direct communication skills)

Your boss may be brilliant at what they do. Still, suppose they aren't great at communication. In that case, these managers will try to hide behind emails to provide feedback without facing up to the emotional aspect of the information they are trying to convey.

As the recipient of these emails, the way you interpret the message is often misconstrued and taken in a completely different context from the initially intended message.

how to stay motivated:

  • Take the initiative and schedule a weekly or monthly WIP meeting with your boss face to face - if your boss asks you why, say you would like to work more closely with them on your projects.
  • Similarly, you may need to take the lead during these meetings - have a structured approach and include questions you would like answered in person, not over email. Ask for, and accept feedback willingly.

There are many types of bosses from hell - from bullies & yellers to unethical behaviour. Most people will come up against a problematic supervisor throughout their career. Still, you can survive with patience and critical steps to stay motivated.

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