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Dwarfing Leadership

Dopey_grumpy Once upon a time, Dopey and Grumpy were promoted to managers.  Dopey was in over his head, and Grumpy yelled at everyone.  And nobody lived happily ever after.  The end.

Not much of a plot, eh?

How about if we make it more interesting... say... we genetically fuse Dopey and Grumpy.  That's what the folks at University of California Berkeley have done in their recently released study.  They've discovered that bosses who perceive themselves as inadequate or incompetent are far more likely to bully (and even sabotage) their subordinates.

Kind of explains the Bush-Cheney administration, doesn't it?  (Yeah, yeah, I know... one of the ironies of being a Republican who can view things objectively.)

According to the study, over a third of American workers have been bullied.  I've seen some of the ugliest bullies on the planet in my career, and my work with Office-Politics.com exposes me to worse ones than my imagination could conjure up.

So what do we do about all of this?  Do we suck up to our bosses to make them feel better about themselves?  Well, there is something to helping another individual maintain a modicum of self-esteem.  But what if the boss is just your basic WUHOT?  You can try to help him or her look good... to a point.  You can watch the floundering and even try to expedite the inevitable, but that only makes people miserable in the interim.  You definitely should document every exchange you have with this boss.

Have you ever had an incompetent boss?  What did you do to manage upward?


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It's a great question. I prefer a no-BS approach. I've reported to senior executives where I had to sit down and have very candid discussions about the exact same issue multiple times before they actually heard me.

Was I putting my job at risk? Yes, probably. But a good project manager has to be willing to stand up for themselves, their teams, and their projects.

Ignoring it or being wishy-washy just doesn't cut it in my experience. I DO recommend addressing it in a private conversation though, and in a way that highlights the behavior and consequences, not attacking of the individual. Like giving feedback to my own subordinates, with subtle differences because of the positional authority involved.

Josh Nankivel

Dr Kervokian

Bad bosses probably outnumber good ones by 10:1. So skills of managing upwards are essential to survive. Anyhow, here's the observations gathered from my research.

a) Bad bosses are typically "fearful" of a lot of things.
Fear if looking bad, fear of failure, fear of authority etc the list goes on. So, if the decision is seriously bad just bring up larger than life scenarios of how the idea will explode and destroy everyone in its path. Including him(her)self.

b) They tend to suffer from Narcissistic Personality Disorders
So what ever it is, you can't be right; and they're the best (wo)man for the job. Ever.
These managers are a tough nut to crack. As well as being blame resistant and hold constant "blamestorming" sessions.

c) The weaker ones tend to have Borderline Personality Disorders. Exhibited by extreme manic behaviours or dramatic show of emotions when a problem arises.

d) The weakest have strange phobias and are typically indecisive. Essentially Depressive/Anxiety related disorders. These folks fear the Signatory page like its a pit of rattlesnakes.

The lessons learned are to "NEVER" confront them in front of a crowd. Speak to them one on one and treat them like they're king. After the 3rd or 4th try, they may just gain enough trust to rescind the initial orders.

Secondly, just stay out of the way, and oddly enough some of my colleagues have manage to survive by staying under the radar. Lastly, if it's just too tough, always make sure you have your parachute ready.

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