How to manage a burned-out manager

WORKING WOMAN

January 02, 1994|By Niki Scott | Niki Scott,Universal Press Syndicate

Your formerly reasonable boss has turned into a tantrum-throwing 2-year-old. Your usually calm, organized supervisor is acting like a frantic ferret. Your manager who used to be Ms. Affability has turned into Ms. Snarl & Sneer.

How do you handle a boss who's clearly losing his or her grip? Carefully. Very carefully.

Here are ways to manage a burned-out manager without (a) losing your job; (b) losing your self-respect; or (c) losing your mind.

* First of all, get the facts. If you're not sure whether your boss' behavior has anything to do with you, and careful observation hasn't supplied the answer, it's time to make some subtle, discreet inquiries of your co-workers.

Ask if they've also noticed a change, in a low-key, fact-finding manner, not in a gossipy, "You think that's bad? Wait until you hear this one!" way.

* If your investigation reveals that you have nothing to do with your boss' personality change, believe this. Don't spend another minute second-guessing or blaming yourself.

* Resolve to keep your emotions in check during this crisis. Don't let your manager's stressed-out reactions trigger an overreaction from you -- even if you have to bite your tongue.

(I kept a job for whole year by looking my gibbering gerbil of an editor straight in the eye while mentally reviewing every recipe I'd ever memorized. Except for the time when I answered his query about a breaking news story with, "three eggs and a cup of milk," he was never the wiser.)

* Remember, timing is everything. If your boss seems to be more reasonable and productive during certain times of the day, try to plan meetings with him or her for these times.

* Give your supervisor extra notice of coming events. If you need to meet with him or her, arrange the meeting well in advance. If a deadline is coming up, remind him or her of it in plenty of time -- in writing.

* Speaking of writing, put everything in writing if you can, for your own protection.

* Be a trustworthy listener. If your boss wants to talk, listen -- and repeat nothing you hear! Do this not in hopes of some future reward, but because we all like ourselves better when we maintain our integrity during a difficult time.

* Be quietly supportive. Your boss' problems are not yours, it's true, and the last thing you want to be is an apple-polisher, but you are dealing with another human who's obviously in pain. A little practical help or quiet sympathy couldn't hurt.

* Provide your boss with all the information he/she wants, but think long and hard before adding to his or her burden. Ask yourself, "Why am I saying this?" If all you want is a pat on the back or a sympathetic ear, find someone else who can supply it.

* Never go over your boss' head. If you need his or her OK before taking action of some kind, don't go to someone else for it. At a time when your boss is already feeling besieged and defensive, this could mean professional suicide.

* Maintain your boundaries. No one has a right to be physically, emotionally, verbally or sexually abusive toward you, no matter how miserable he or she might be. It's up to you to make this clear.

* Finally, know when to abandon ship -- which is before your job performance deteriorates or your emotional well-being is jeopardized.

Jobs come and go; bosses do, too. But our self-esteem and self-respect are our most valuable assets, and we're the only ones who can protect them.

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