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Learn to Manage Up

By Lily Garcia
Special to washingtonpost.com
Wednesday, January 9, 2008 4:23 PM

Help -- my boss is a monster. She is a complete control freak. She doesn't like to give us assignments until she has gone through them completely and decides they are simple enough. She yells at you if you make a small error and rails on and on about how you will never be able to work on your own. She leaves you out of meetings you would benefit from if you ever wanted to advance your understanding of our work (like planning meetings). I have spoken directly to her about treating us with more respect and saying thank you occasionally. That lasted for a couple days, then status quo. The catch is that we learn a lot at this job despite her. What do I do? And I believe HR and her manager are aware of her bad boss behaviors as she has been sent to a management course and every employee she has ever had has quit. But she is such a hard worker they tolerate anything she does.

Even if you think that the powers that be are aware of your boss' shortcomings, it cannot hurt to add your name to the list of the aggrieved. If your boss has previously been sent to management training in response to complaints about her behavior, that is a good sign. It means that the leadership of your organization is listening and willing to act to correct the problem.

When someone is entrenched in controlling and belittling behavior patterns, it may take a while before they change. And even small increments of change can only result from tremendous personal dedication. So my point is that, even under the best of circumstances, you cannot expect lasting changes from your boss on short order.

On the other hand, you can meaningfully support your boss' efforts to improve by providing her with honest observations, as you have, and pointing out the positive impact even of the short-lived changes she makes. This is called managing up, and it is no less critical to the healthy functioning of an organization than the ongoing feedback most employees so long for from their supervisors.

Allow for the possibility that you may never see any drastic improvement in your boss's management style, and that even small changes may be hard-won. Then ask yourself honestly whether the learning you derive from the job is worth tolerating the discomfort of your reporting relationship.

Join Lily Garcia on Tuesday, Jan. 22 at 11 a.m. ET for How to Deal Live.

Lily Garcia has offered employment law and human resources advice to companies of all sizes for 10 years. To submit a question, e-mail hradvice@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered. The information contained in this column is not intended to be legal advice.

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