By Linnda Durre, Ph.D., Author of Surviving the Toxic Workplace – Protect Yourself Against Co-workers Bosses and Work Environments That Poison Your Day published by McGraw Hill, February 19, 2010.
As a business and corporate consultant and psychotherapist, I’ve analyzed, worked with, and consulted with many difficult bosses over the years. In order to cope and deal with them, you need to know why they act the way they do and how best to deal with them, in order to earn their respect, get things accomplished, change negative situations to positive ones, and preserve your sanity.
In my column, I will help you cope with a different type of boss, whether male or female. And remember – all of these toxic bosses in all of my columns can be of either gender. Toxicity does not discriminate according to the sexes. The previous ones include: Dick the Dictator, Bashia the Backstabber, Sewell the Sexual Harasser, Carl the Control Freak, Paula the Passive Aggressive, Clayton the Clueless, Greta the Gossip, Susie the Sugar Coater, Ian the Idea Stealer, Al the Alcoholic, Nancy the Narcissist, Donald the Deal Maker, Vernon the Verbal Attacker, Bobby the Boss’s Relative, Cynthia the Silent Treatment Torturer, Phil the Philanderer, Ned the Negligent, Sal the Slave Driver, Porter the Political Soap Boxer, Michael the Micromanager, Wade the One Upper, Betty the Battle Axe, Phoebe the Phony, and Peter the Pig.
Bill the Big Picture Boss is a visionary. He sees and thinks in grand terms. He knows the end result of the project, where he needs to go, and where to take the company. He just isn’t good with HOW to get there or the details of the plan to make it happen. He leaves that up to you and his employees without giving you much assistance. You feel helpless, lost, and confused.
He sometimes exaggerates things, making it look easier than it really is. He also may minimize the risk, the time it will take, and the demands placed on his employees. He expects everyone to work long hours without compensation, to stay late, work on weekends, and get the job done. He wants everyone to feel his enthusiasm and his optimism. Many people don’t. They resent his slave driver tactics.
When you ask for his help or say, “I don’t know what you mean,” he’ll usually make statements like, “Well, just figure it out,” or “That’s your job, not mine!” or “I’m not good with details.” He will constantly frustrate you and make you feel stupid, inadequate, and incompetent. You’re afraid to act because you don’t want to make a mistake. Your immobility and “deer in the headlights” freeze only makes things worse.
Another version of Bill the Big Picture Boss is that he has the vision, tells you what needs to be done, and then goes out to play golf, go to the beach, or take a 3 martini lunch. Sometimes he leaves the state or country and expects his words to be followed to the letter and the project completed by the time he returns, without ever giving you help, overseeing the project, or guiding the department to the finish line.
No matter what his style, Bill is difficult and frustrating to deal with.
When you ask him for help, he’ll humiliate you instead of guide you. Don’t feel badly – he really doesn’t know how to help you. He relies on you and others to execute his plans and vision. There are some people who can interpret Bill’s plan easily and they should be his next in command. But you’re not one of them.
It may be the difference between right brain and left brain functioning – the creative, holistic, and non-linear vs. the logical, linear, and systematic. He’s just wired this way.
Bill may have A.D.D – Attention Deficit Disorder or A.D.H.D – Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. This is neurological. Can a leopard change his spots? NO. So don’t expect him to be different. Some people have found holistic remedies like Omega 3 fish oils to be helpful. Others have gone to doctors for medication and that has helped them concentrate better. You may want to recommend this to Bill or have HR do it.
There is also a bit of the irresponsible narcissist in Bill – “I’m the boss, do as I say, and I don’t have to guide you. I’m special, I’m unique, and I’m a genius.”
If he owns the company, it’s even worse because he has no one to answer to. If it’s a publicly traded company, the only people he may really care about are the stockholders, not his employees. He leaves it up to you to solve everything and then blames you when it’s not done, or not on time or the way he wanted it. He doesn’t want to take responsibility for the details – he sees that as a waste of his precious time, because he thinks he’s a visionary and that he’s too important to deal with the little details. You have to do something to protect your sanity.
Because Bill sees everything in large terms, he hates paperwork and details. He fails to remember deadlines, where he put his receipts, glasses, or his keys. He can’t find his record book and other important documentation. You have to constantly ask him to bring those things in or you’ll be left in tracking them down yourself.
Keep a schedule book of when things are due, deadlines, meetings, and trips and remind him several times a day and with plenty of advance notice. He may try to make you “the fall guy” and blame you when deadlines are missed, so keep documentation – emails, voice mails, memos, etc. – to prove you did everything you could to remind him.
You may need to get help from someone else in the department. If there is a person – let’s call him Ronald – who sees things the way Bill does but is also good with implementation, then Ronald should be Bill’s second in command. Ask Ronald to take over your job and then be Ronald’s assistant. Tell Bill that’s what you’re going to do or tell HR that’s how you need it to be in the department to get things done.
If there is no one like Ronald in your office, you may simply have to tell Bill yourself in a tactful way and get him to explain things in more detail. Describe your frustration and how you want to carry out his vision, but are afraid of making a mistake. Tell him he needs someone else to take your place to translate Bill’s vision and that you will work directly with that person since you feel it’s over your head.
If you don’t want to talk to Bill and if there is no one like Ronald in the office, perhaps you could go to Bill’s boss and tell him/her the dilemma. If you can’t do that, perhaps HR will assist you. The productivity of the company is at stake and they need to know that.
You may need to ask HR for a transfer to another department. Going to work each day feeling like you’re clueless, drowning, and out of the loop isn’t the way to live. Identify your expertise and use that to the best of the company. Tell them what you’re great at and that you want to shine in your specialty area. Perhaps you can find a department or a mentor in the company that will approve the transfer. If not, then look for another job or learn how to read Bill’s mind. If you’re not a psychic, I’d recommend looking for another job where you excel.
I hope these tips will help you in dealing with Bill the Big Picture Boss.
—Linnda Durré, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist, business consultant, corporate trainer, national speaker, and columnist. She has hosted and co-produced two live call-in TV shows, including “Ask The Family Therapist” on America’s Health Network, which was associated with Mayo Clinic and aired from Universal Orlando. She is the author of “Surviving the Toxic Workplace: Protect Yourself Against Co-Workers, Bosses, and Work Environments That Poison Your Day” (2010 – McGraw-Hill). The book’s website is: www.survivingthetoxicworkplace.com
She has been interviewed on Oprah, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Daytime, Good Morning America, Canada AM, and The O’Reilly Factor (twice), and the national and/or local news on ABC, CBS, NBC, NPR, PBS, Fox and CW. She has written for Forbes, CareerBuilder, Monster, A&U Magazine, Orlando Business Journal, and American Cities Business Journals. For more information about her consulting or speaking, contact her at Linnda.Durre@gmail.com and 407-739-8620.