Professional journeys are full of obstacles that help us learn, grow, and excel. Sometimes a challenging project forces us to develop new skills. Other times getting out of your comfort zone and presenting a new idea proves to be a catalyst to advance. However, there is one challenge that can seem insurmountable: dealing with an unsupportive boss.
Good bosses create an atmosphere that encourages creativity, trust, respect, personal growth, and professional development. They create an open feedback loop where great work is rewarded and issues are tackled head-on.
Bad bosses, on the other hand, can have any combination of unfavorable characteristics. Perhaps it is a manager with a condescending attitude, someone who micromanages everything, or one who fails to give any feedback that could improve your performance.
The unsupportive boss is different. Worse than the straightforward bad boss is a boss who subtly fails to advocate for you. They may shoot down your ideas without explaining, seem unavailable, and block you from getting in the right rooms. Working under an unsupportive boss can make it a challenge to go to work every day, ultimately stunting your professional growth if it goes on for long enough.
Signs of an Unsupportive Boss
There are countless examples of unsupportive ways bosses can show up. Here are some of things to look out for:
- They regularly cancel meetings with you or simply miss them without warning
- They spend excessive amounts of time critically reviewing all the work you do
- They refuse to give you valuable feedback that could help your performance improve
- They don’t assign you to any high profile, interesting projects and/or frequently assign you meager projects with a lot of busywork
- They don’t advocate for you when you deserve a raise or promotion
- They actively undermine you and make attempts to sabotage your career
There are actions you can take to deal with boss that lacks the qualities of a strong, supportive leader. Here are some tips to try.
1) Do some personal reflection
Support and advocacy are not earned overnight. Take time to look around at your other teammates and colleagues. What characteristics do they have and what accomplishments have they earned?
Get honest with yourself and explain whether you have been forthcoming about your goals. Have you been proactive in asking for projects instead of waiting for them to be assigned to you? It’s up to you to make your ambitions clear.
Also consider how you have historically communicated with your boss. Have you been open with them about your expectations or concerns? If you still feel they are not being supportive of your work, have you asked for back-up in meetings? You can choose to be assertive and not to be a victim of your situation.
2) Continue to support your boss
Though it will seem impossible at times, it is usually in your best interest to continue to support your boss and help them succeed while you are still working there. One helpful question to keep front-of-mind is “What can I do today to make my manager’s life easier?”.
When there are challenges arising within the company, be proactive in coming up with solutions and sharing them with your manager. Showing interest in their success builds trust. Doing these things will show others around you that you’re a team player and could show your boss that you are an asset and should be treated as such.
3) Address it diplomatically
Open communication is key in any relationship, and the employee-boss relationship is no different. As you have concerns, try to express them calmly. Ask for a time to speak, and frame the discussion as an opportunity to optimize your working relationship. In your conversation, be mindful to focus on future-oriented solutions, not past problems.
4) Speak up about your achievements
You likely produce excellent work, but it’s contingent on you to advocate for yourself and socialize your achievements. Make sure you are known as the employee who gets things done, puts effort into delivering high-quality work, and is always open to new challenges. Doing this not only ensures that you will find support in your organization, but can lead to a plethora or opportunities for growth inside and outside of your organization.
You can demonstrate your achievements to your boss in a few different ways, some more subtle than others. Instead of focusing on a list of tasks you have completed, explain what that means in terms of impact. For example, your conversations with customers are not just meetings, they are sales pitches that can increase revenue and improve sustainability. Use numbers when you can to quantify the value of your work.
5) Stop Seeking validation
If constantly putting forward great work does not change your manager’s attitude, stop doing it for approval. Instead, do it because you want to create a personal brand and reputation for yourself. Building your skill set, getting new experiences, and interacting with new people will make you an asset to your company and other potential employers if and when you choose to pursue other avenues.
6) Seek Support from Other Senior Leaders
It may be time to find a new advocate or even an entirely new support system. Take time to look around your organization and even in your wider network and community. Find allies who share your values and can help you reach your career goals.
Support can come in all shapes and sizes at work. If you can, try to establish a relationship with people in your organization that have a voice and influence. Outside of your direct supervisor, there could be plenty of executives and senior leaders that can put the time and energy into cultivating your success.
Start raising your hand and offering to take on difficult projects. Prove that you are worthy of more responsibility by completing your tasks well so that there are people in your corner who can testify to the good work you are capable of.
With the right attitude, you can turn this situation around. You can even make it a useful move for your personal and professional growth.