I have run many management development programmes over the years and I frequently encounter participants who blame their bosses for their own lack of inertia.  I have often heard phrases such as ‘Well I will never get my boss’ approval for that, ‘that’s not how my boss works,’ etc.  They felt that they had the worst kind of bosses, and there was no way to get past them.

I have often reflected on what I have been told and I have to agree that a poor boss can undermine the best intentions and demotivate the most enthusiastic people, however, we should not use this as an excuse to do nothing ourselves.  Rather than complaining about your boss think about what you can do to help them and improve the situation.

In my experience, there are three particularly ineffective types of boss and here are a few ways of dealing with each:

The Procrastinator

A Boss can be indecisive for a variety of reasons. It may be because they are a perfectionist and won’t make a decision until they have all the necessary information in place, or they may struggle with the ambiguity of a situation and think that the safest thing is to do nothing.  A procrastinating boss can be very frustrating to deal with.

Instead of waiting for an indecisive boss to make the call, you should enable him or her to overcome that weakness.

Start with the first step. Big decisions can invariably be broken down into small ones. Russian psychologist Bluma Zeigarnik studied procrastination and decision making and discovered that when we take a small step towards doing something we don’t want to, the act itself creates an inner motivation which enables us to complete the task.  So rather than asking your manager to make a big decision, think about a small low risk decision they can make.  This will help you to progress your project or task as well as create motivation in them to see the whole thing through.

Build trust. Managers who struggle to make up their minds look for peers they can talk to to help them.  Become the person your manager trusts; you can then help them make decisions quickly.

Have a conversation. Get together as a team and have a candid, unscheduled discussion with your manager about the way his or her behaviour is affecting productivity and morale. Be honest, but respectful. When indecisive managers are confronted by a few determined souls, they tend to make decisions immediately.

The Know it All. Some bosses think they know it all. They assume they are the brightest and most intelligent people in the room, that they are the only people really interested in succeeding or making a difference and frequently tell stories about how they pulled off impossible things in the past.   Such leaders aren’t incompetent, but you wish they would trust you more, listen more, and give you more space to do your job.  You can manage them in the following ways:

Allow your boss to discover your ideas. Know it all bosses love spotting great ideas and making decisions themselves. Try presenting your ideas as if they aren’t fully thought through, or as though you’re unsure of their effectiveness and need to refine them. Alternatively give your boss 3-4 options and get them to choose the best.  These actions will ensure immediate buy-in by your boss, and rapid decisions.

Link your ideas to their goals and plans.  All knowing bosses like to be publically seen to be successful.  Knowing what your boss’ goals and plans are, for example to gain promotion, win a particular client, or save the world, will enable you to put across your ideas in a way that will continue to be successful.

The Control Freak. Managers are supposed to motivate and empower employees not over control them.  Yet, many bosses inhibit talented employees and their good ideas because of their own insecurities. Here’s how to tackle an over controlling boss:

Understand the root cause. Step back and look at the big picture. Many pressures such as year-end goals or unfinished projects might be the cause of the boss’ anxiety and need for control.   Remember your boss will also have a boss that they need to keep in the loop too.  Make sure you aren’t feeding your boss’ insecurity by acting in a way that gives them grounds to think that you may not be in control of your work.

Be more transparent. Some managers fear the unknown and assume the worst. Trust, is really the only antidote, which is built by transparency. Even if it takes more time and effort, share as much information as possible with your boss.

Many of us may feel that it’s not our job to sort out our incompetent boss, and that really top management needs to intervene to ‘sort them out’.  However, in reality, you have only two choices: Keep waiting for the organisation to fix your boss’ bad habits – or find ways of doing things yourself to improve the situation.  If you take matters into your own hands even in small ways, you will be able to ensure that you get past the inertia of your boss.  Finally to paraphrase the words of Rear Admiral Grace Hopper, it is sometimes easier (and better) to ask for forgiveness than it ever is to ask for permission.