How to Succeed with a Lousy Boss
I receive emails and questions after presentations like, “How can I manage up, I have a lousy boss?”
Jimmy Collins, retired president of Chick-fil-A and author of, Creative Followership, doesn’t wait for people to ask him about lousy bosses. He asks them.
My conversation with Jimmy rocked my world. He said things like:
“Seeking Leadership roles never produced anything for me. When I chose the follower role there was no end to what I could accomplish.”
“Forget about leadership roles. What matters is what you can accomplish.”
We also talked about bad bosses.
Regarding lazy bosses:
Jimmy stands in front of groups and asks, “How many work for someone who doesn’t like to do very much?”
People look at each other and wonder if he’s for real. They’re hesitant to raise their hand. But, Jimmy’s serious. Eventually people begin acknowledging their frustration with a boss who doesn’t do much.
Jimmy asks, “Do you realize how fortunate you are?”
Principle 3 in, Creative Followership:
“Do what your boss does not like to do.”
Jimmy said, “The less your boss likes to do, the better for you.”
When people asked Jimmy what he did at Chick-fil-A he said, “I do what Truett Cathy doesn’t like to do.” (No connection intended between Truett and lousy bosses. Principle 3 applies to all types of bosses.)
It worked for Jimmy. He became the chief operating officer and president of Chick-Fil-A. All the while, Jimmy refuses to call himself a leader. He persistently says, “I’m a follower of Truett Cathy.”
Jimmy said, “Working for a lousy boss means one is in a learning-rich environment … negative experiences … are excellent character-building opportunities.”
Stop fixing lousy bosses; grow yourself.
What are the best ways to deal with lousy bosses?
Attitude, attitude, attitude.
I am from the camp that self–leadership is more critical to our happiness and success than external leadership. Much is made of the latter, and though I acknowledge the importance of it, my work concentrates more on the former.
When we put too much emphasis on, and invest too much in our leaders, we give away our personal power and ability to author our lives.
How do you fix lousy bosses? I think you gave the best approach with your last sentence.
Enjoyed this one!
So powerful! It’s self-defeating to spend our time worrying about a lousy boss.
Thanks for the compliment on the last sentence. What a waste of time to work on fixing others when we have so much potential for our own growth.
After all, I’m going to spend a lot more time with me than I am with a lousy boss.
So true. A few months ago I asked one of my clients two questions related to this. The first was why his boss deserved so much time in his head. The second was if she thought her boss was a good enough reason for him not to do his work and add his value. Sobering questions that helped us take a new, healthier direction 😉
Great stuff Mark!
So what I hear you saying is First Things First, get one’s own house in order!!!
Get that right before you start trying to get others houses in order?
Plus their house is their job, not mine!
SP back to now working on getting my house in order! When that happens people notice without me opening my pie hole. Attract not promote!
Thanks, Scott… yeah, in my experience my “outside” leadership gets better as my “inside” leadership does. 😉 And there is always room for improvement. Everything seems to change when I do. 🙂
Agree fully. We make choices. They’re our choices. Accept them or get out of the kitchen. My five year old says “she made me do it” – I’m on a mission that by the time she is six she’ll never say it again.
‘Author our lives’ – I like that.
Thanks, Croadie… yeah as counterintuitive as it may seem to some, you’re actually empowering your five–year–old by going in that direction. We can’t really change what we don’t truly own (or own some significant part of). Thanks for letting me know you could relate…
I find this post interesting. I believe you usually have to work a job before it is offered to you. I tried to share this philosophy with my teen students.
When teens are in a job and the boss keeps asking them to do something, they think, “How come he always asks ME to do everything? Why doesn’t he ask the other workers?” I tell them they are being groomed for leadership. When an opportunity for leadership opens up, they will be the first one who comes to mind because they have already proven they can do all the tasks at the next level.
We have to work a job before it Is offered to us. Sounds like Jimmy Collins figured that out and made the most of it.
You get smarter every time I read your comments. 🙂
We this is simple, but not easy!
Resentments see our number one offender-AA Big Book. Best manual for living ever penned, two reasons. One generic, two first 164 pages written in past tense cause it is based on experience not make believe.
Easy to create resentments, repeated thoughts that take our conscious thought out of the present.
So solution, pray for them. Big Book says they are possibly Spiritually sick, duh!!! No one treats people bad unless there is something wrong with them, so understand screwy folks are not in their right mind! They are suffering a spiritual malady. Pray they get everything I want!
Then the Golden Key from the ROCKSTAR Emmet Fox….think about God instead.
That fixes me up maybe it will work for you. You will never know till you try and see!!! Contempt prior to investigation blows!! How. Honest, open, willing rocks!!!
SP back to now where everything is groovy!!!
It’s great you brought up resentment. One of the most, if not the most, self-destructive emotions.
Never let the failures of others be our excuse for failing.
Another tact. Don’t wrestle with the pig in the mudpit…..you both get dirty and the pig likes it!!!!
Possible to be an interested observer!!
SP back to now
“Sooo true Dan.” Be prepared to own your failures as well as your sucsesses.
Although attempting to assist or encourage positive change when working for a ‘Lousy-Boss’ is a noble cause, it can be difficult if not destructive to present and future relationships. Addressing another’s faults or inadequacies can be dangerous, your dealing with a persons feelings and precious pride. Great advice Dan regarding picking up the slack by doing what needs to be done. If you remain committed to helping your boss make some positive changes, find subtle ways to offer your assistance. Change is not easy for anyone. The motivation and inspiration should always be to help the individual become more effective and efficient. This can be uncomfortable position to be in, ‘tread lightly’! Cheers Dan
“Tread lightly” … if you’re looking for advancement then fixing the boss probably isn’t the path. 🙂
Some love the be the company SOB.
Bullying never seems to go out of style.
Remember what you once said about “negative motivation”?
Just remember what the guy who bailed Chrysler out said: “the speed of the boss is the speed of the team”
Iaccoca was on to something, don’t you think?
Great quote, “The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.” I hadn’t heard that one before.
I had a mentor who constantly asked me to make decisions based on how I could best be of service. This post is a good one, because it simplifies the hard question down to its finest point: There are many possible answers for “How To Manage Up?,” but really only one answer to “How Do I Follow Better?”
– Do what the lousy boss doesn’t like to do. Be Of Service.
It’s powerful, because it takes the focus off of what’s wrong with that person, back to “What’s my part? How can I best serve this situation?” I routinely remind my eight-year-old son that he can only control the things HE is doing. It works for grown-ups, too!
Three BIG words, “Be of service” Wow!
Smart post, Dan. You can’t change who your boss is, but you can change your own perception and turn adversity into a learning opportunity.
Perhaps, rather than asking, “How can I change the boss,” we could ask, “How can I change me?”
A constructive mindset sets you apart at any level in the organization, Frustration with others is your enemy, learning to not be absorbed by that is vital — I see this “what he doesn’t do..” position as a practical way to finding and leveraging your place to contribute.
…I love the simplicity of this.
So true. People who explain what can’t be done are cheap. People who get things done are valuable. Powerful
That’s really good advice. I had an awful boss who seemed to be made of teflon. No matter what went wrong, it was always someone else’s fault. If you tried to “fill in the gaps” in a cheerful and positive way, you were accused of some new error. Need I add that this was a government employer? So, in the end, the lazy boss got a massive pay off. Me? I was long gone. But you remind me that I need to forget about it, learn the lessons and move forward in my head, as well as in my life! Thank you.
I appreciate your story and especially the idea of forward movement. Looking back takes us back.
Each of these problems takes us forward, if we look inside ourselves. Corny, but I believe in being positive and moving forward, even through a period of lousy unemployment.
focus on what you can control which is your attitude towards you lousy boss… avoid complaining and criticizing your boss, it will not give you anything instead learn how to lead your boss.. i recommend a book of John Maxwell 360 degree leadership
You make me think there isn’t much in life we can control…but you certainly nailed one… perhaps the most important one to control, attitude.
yes sir Dan and I believe our attitude is a great determinant factor of one’s success… if we want to reach the heights of our career, we have to attend on our attitude. According to Zig Ziglar, “It’s not the aptitude but the attitude that determines the altitude of our success.”
I have weathered several lousy bosses throughout my lifetime. My present one is the worst. I have to tangle with him all the time and smack sense into him daily. It’s tough being self employed.
Good one!! 🙂
Dan, it does not matter if you work for a good boss or a bad boss. “do what the boss does not like to do” will work. I learned this Principle on the first day of my first job and have practiced it in my relationship with good and bad bosses.
With my last boss I really made it part of my introduction. When people asked me what I did. I told them, “I do what Truett Cathy (my boss) does not like to do.” When I did this with Truett present, he would respond, “And, don’t like to do very much.”
I wanted to add value to the organization and saw this as the area of greatest opportunity. Doing what the boss did not like to do gave him more time to do what he liked and did best.
I tell young people, if you work for a boss who doesn’t like to do much, you are very fortunate Just think of all of the opportunities that leaves open to you. You can make yourself so valuable the boss will pay you more and give you the best assignments.
It worked for me, it will work for anyone.
“It doesn’t matter if you work for a good boss or a bad boss.” Wow! What a liberating idea… just go out and do what they don’t want to do.
I think it’s too simple for some of us. 😉
Thanks for your book and for a great conversation.
I agree. I worked for someone who hardly did anything, sometimes didn’t even show up and I learned so much and felt so empowered! That’s my favourite kind of boss. I miss her!
I also worked for someone who didn’t know what she was doing and couldn’t make decisions. That was hard. Eventually I stopped running things by her and just made the decisions myself and kept her in the loop. They ended up letting her go and I moved up and beyond that position.
I do agree that a lousy boss can build character however I also think it’s important to realise when that lousy attitude has started to kill your creativity and lidded your potential. I’ve learned all I could have learned from some lousy bosses and I mean really lousy. But I was painfully aware that if I stayed under their lousy, non emotionally intelligent culture I would not have survived. So I think it’s about being aware of where you’re going, what your goals are. Sometimes you have to stay to learn all you can and that’s when you have to realise your character is being built. But once you have what you need to go to the next level it’s time to move on so you can continue to grow. Another great article. Thanks again. I enjoy your writing.
I’m glad you added your voice here. Jimmy suggests we fire our lousy boss and find one we can respect.
Geez, I hate it when all the savvy folks here keep holding up that mirror of introspection…gets kinda uncomfortable. What do you mean I can’t change my boss, that I need to change my perspective and attitude…ouch! In the end, might just have a little more inner peace though! 😉
The shift from blame to responsibility is a rocky and painful path. But, once we find the other side, it’s worth it. Right? 🙂
You don’t have to stay with a lousy boss. When I had enough, I fired my boss and found a good one. I did that in reverse order of course.
Why would anyone let a bad boss ruin their career? Learning and character building is possible while you are looking for a new, hopefully better, boss, but I always considered myself a volunteer who was free to leave.
If you like the organization and its purpose, why not get a transfer. It is another way to fire your boss. Most organizations have good bosses who are constantly looking for good employees to join their team. That why it is important to keep your performance and attitude high and positive while you search for that new boss. You will want good references.
I fired my bad bosses! One of them was myself. (I was self-employed at the time.)
One of the things I like about your book is the way you tell your own story with candor and transparency.
Once again, great post! You can substitute boss for partner, co-manager, ect..
Sometimes I notice in my observations is that people in general will label a boss as lousy because they a very different in how they think and perform. I just commented to a client today that I’m glad I’m the only one in my company like me, otherwise we’d never get anything done! 🙂
The great work that my partner does, I don’t like doing, and vise versa. When your the employee or the junior partner, the person above you seems imperfect because you see them often. As much as I like to think that as a boss, I’m the enlightened boss, the funny boss or the cool boss, I think there is a bit of “lousy” in all of us from other peoples perspectives.
Great add. Strengths have corresponding weaknesses. So, as you indicate, we are all “lousy” in some way.
One way to succeed with a lousy boss is to move out and up. That lousy boss may be just the thing to get you out the door and into a new company with a great boss, thus succeeding.
Absolutely. And don’t forget the lateral move option, as well.
I work for Chick-fil-a. This is helpful
I wish you success!
I have had a lousy strategy with lousy bosses. I have told them to go fly a kite! Not a great strategy if you want to survive in the corporate world
I absolutely agree with the sentiment here, but the language woukd be a deal killer for my non Christian or irreligious employees. I’m starting to wonder if I’m a lousy boss… so I’m seeking out any info I can find on the topic.
Thanks for the post. I like to hear from you on “How to Succeed with a Super-active Boss”
Can you give them what they want before they ask for it?
Can you reverse delegate by giving them jobs that keep them busy?
Dan, you are truly unique. I don’t know how many times I have been interviewed, but I do remember how many times I have been accurately quoted. You are the only one to achieve 100% accuracy in quoting me. Thank you!
This week, I have taken this message to students at Belhaven University, Atlanta and Chattanooga. “Do what the boss does not like to do” will work with any boss, good boss or bad boss.
I have been advocating this principle for decades. Only once have I received a negative response. A young man called me and said, “Jimmy, you got me fired!” When I heard the boss’ version of the story, it was different. He said, “That young man wanted to take over my job.”
In applying this principle, it is necessary to remember that I said “what the boss does not like to do'” That means, the boss gets first choice!