Working for an abrasive boss can be tough, but what if you’re the executive everyone loves to hate? Your career may have advanced nicely to this point due to your talent and expertise, but unless you modify your harsh personality, it’s unlikely that top management will continue to reward you. The first step is to recognize that you’ve got a problem.
Even if they recognize their faults, bosses don’t become bosses by admitting to character flaws.
To determine whether others perceive you as the dictator of your department, review the following abrasive managerial styles and suggestions for improving your behavior, should you recognize yourself among them:
1. Field Marshals
“Field marshals” are classic authoritarian managers. They get things done, but they are control freaks who tend to intimidate others. When subordinates fail to carry out tasks exactly as requested, field marshals unfairly attack their lack of experience, talent, or vision.
- You’ve been told multiple times that you are authoritarian and not participative.
- People who do not follow your instructions precisely or do things differently irritate you.
- Your motto is “my way or the highway.”
Suggestion: By working to improve your listening skills and by sharing responsibilities more freely, you can elicit information from others before making demands.
2. Street Fighters
“Street fighters” are extremely competitive, with every interaction producing a clear winner and loser. They typically insist on having the last word and being perceived as always right, traits which damage their careers at companies where teamwork is valued above personal achievement.
- You’ve been told that you are too competitive internally and should focus more on outside competitors.
- The games you enjoy involve wagers or clear winners.
- You find that most situations trigger your competitive spirit.
Suggestion: If you behave like a street fighter, try to determine who your real enemies are and whether cooperation makes more sense than combat.
“Rebels” like being the exception to the rule, and they get away with it because they’re very good at what they do.
- You make excuses for bending the rules in order to get results.
- You bend rules to determine what you can get away with.
- You strive to be visibly different in ways that are not acceptable to the norm.
- You deal poorly with authority figures.
Suggestion: If you have a different set of rules for yourself than for peers and subordinates, decide whether that’s fair and in everyone’s best interest.
4. Dr. Jekylls and Mr. Hydes
These people have solid relationships and good interpersonal skills in one part of an organization, but have trouble with everyone else.
- You focus on those whom you work well with while ignoring all others.
- You realize that you ignore groups of coworkers in order to meet the demands of others, but you don’t care.
Suggestion: Work on your relationships with colleagues other than those you’re trying to impress. Respected bosses know how to motivate people all around them, while abrasive bosses tend to spend time with people who will boost their careers or with those who are willing to put up with their personality.
5. Mr. Spocks
“Mr. Spocks” (à la Star Trek) are insensitive to their impact on others.
- You may think that you are sensitive, but you hear from others that you are not.
- You are surprised when you have hurt someone’s feelings and don’t understand how it happened.
- You have difficulty confronting emotional people, especially when you do not understand their reaction to something that isn’t a “big deal.”
Suggestion: Once you realize how you come across, you can change by connecting your honest concern for others with your behavior.
Changing behavior doesn’t come easily: abrasive behavior is not easily recognized, and some people are unwilling to change, or outright deny that they must change. Sometimes, a lot of bad things have to happen before an abrasive boss realizes that it is their behavior that is the problem. Identification is the first step, and we can use the above templates to recognize suspect behavior and begin improving ourselves.