Posted by Charles A. Volkert on Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 00:00 | Follow me
As someone who has successfully placed numerous legal job candidates during the course of my career, I can tell you without hesitation that your ability to work well with others, among other factors, often can mean the difference in whether your legal career advances or stalls. One of the most important workplace relationships you have in the legal profession is with your immediate supervisor. But what do you do if you find yourself working with a difficult boss, like nearly half of employees recently surveyed? The odds of changing the individual’s personality or long-established modus operandi are probably slight. So unless you decide to head for greener pastures, you most likely will need to take the initiative to improve your situation.
Types of Difficult Managers and Tips on How to Adapt
Here are the five most common types of problematic managers, along with legal career advice on how to adapt:
Type 1 - The Micromanager
These bosses find it almost impossible to delegate responsibilities and let go of projects. They feel compelled to check in frequently with their team members, often bombarding them with numerous questions or detailed instructions and advice. Micromanagers also tend to be overly critical and may second-guess others’ decisions.
Tip: Try to expand the micromanager’s comfort zone so that he or she can let go and learn to trust you to do your job. Providing assurance along with more frequent updates and status reports might help micromanagers feel more confident about delegating. Frame your plans as suggestions -- i.e., “If you agree, I would like to assign two additional paralegals to that case.” Although having to get the micromanager’s stamp of approval on every last detail might seem annoying, this approach should build your boss’s confidence in your abilities and eventually lead to more autonomy.
Type 2 - The MIA Manager
These supervisors never seem to be around when you need them. Or, they may be physically there but rarely provide sufficient direction, leaving you to make educated guesses about how best to carry out your responsibilities. And if you have an MIA manager, you know firsthand that these bosses may lack a sense of urgency when you need it the most.
Tip: You may need to actively “manage” the MIA boss to get what you need. If your boss has a poor track record of getting back to you, try seeking an on-the-spot answer. It might also be helpful to set up a system of regular communication, such as daily phone calls or short weekly status meetings.
Type 3 - The Waffler
These bosses tend to be indecisive or vague when it comes to making decisions, even when time is of the essence, such as when you might need to make a deadline-driven decision. They're also known for not providing clear objectives or constructive feedback.
Tip: Try to compensate for the waffler’s behavior by making decisive, confident recommendations rather than asking for guidance or advice. Clearly communicate the deadlines you're facing and follow up with your boss to prompt a decision if necessary.
Type 4 - The Critic
Unlike wafflers, critics make their opinions known, and typically in a negative, demoralizing way. They tend to fixate on small mistakes and blow them out of proportion and often mistakenly believe they are motivating you to improve performance.
Tip: Even if the criticism doesn’t seem very constructive, try to view it as informative. Remember that behind every complaint is a request. By zeroing in on what they don’t like, critics are indirectly communicating how they want the job done. Try reading between the lines for the instructions buried inside. You’ll often find answers in remarks that begin with: “Why didn’t you…?” or “You forgot to….” Armed with the insights you glean, you should be better able to handle similar situations the “right” way in the future and avoid negative feedback.
Type 5 - The Mercurial Manager
You never know what you’re going to get from these types of bosses. On Monday, they might assign you urgent responsibilities relating to a pending case, but by Thursday they might redirect you to something less pressing. Not to mention their emotions might range from manic to placid in the course of a day.
Tip: Try keeping a daily activity. If your assignments keep shifting, sit down with your boss and recap your recent activities. It’s possible that mercurial bosses may not realize how much they vacillate, and holding a mirror up may lead to greater consistency.
Regardless of your manager's work style, remaining professional and flexible will help minimize differences and go along way to prevent conflict. And, with time, it maybe even help you discover areas of compatibility with your boss that will allow you to achieve a closer working relationship.
What advice do you have to offer for adapting to the work style of a difficult manager?