South-Western - Management  
Leading Despite Your Boss
Topic Leadership
Key Words Managing up, communication
News Story

Typical behaviors of an unsupportive boss include lacking clear expectations, shifting goals, countermanding decisions, betraying a confidence, lacking in integrity, engaging in negative politics, and micro-managing. To deal with these behaviors, try the following:

  1. Expect a positive outcome. If you stay focused on your department mission and keep your team focused on the goals, you can soften the impact of an unsupportive superior.
  2. Empower yourself. You may choose to confront your boss or escape the situation by leaving the job. But don't leave unless you just don't care anymore. Sticking it out can have its benefits.
  3. Exercise influence. Work on improving your relationship with your boss, use the power you have rather than dwell on circumstance you can't control.
  4. Enhance your relationship with the boss. Take steps to rebuild trust, keep the lines of communication open.
  5. Express your needs. Have an open, assertive approach to resolving differences.

Next, you need to have a plan of action. Some approaches include:

  1. Assess the situation, focus on the facts and the most important issues.
  2. Make a sober self-assessment. Be willing to acknowledge your role in the situation.
  3. Put your emotional responses in perspective.
  4. Approach your boss in a business-like manner.

Finally, exercise integrity - make sure you are the kind of person you would like to have as a boss.


Managing up is just as important as managing down. One of the jobs of a mid-level manager is acting as a buffer between your staff and the upper echelon of the company. Review the five approaches discussed in this article, and give examples of when each one would be most effective.


Using the information in your textbook on leadership traits, explain what traits would best help a leader deal with a troublesome boss.

Source "Leading Despite Your Boss,"HR Magazine, September, 2003, p. 139.
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