The relationship between you and your boss is one of the trickiest and most important to learn how to navigate. Depending on your personality and that of your supervisor, there could be a number of different dynamics at play in the workplace. We’ve outlined a few archetypal bosses you may encounter, along with some tips on how to get along no matter what comes your way.
There will always be those who think that fear inspires more action than positive reinforcement. If that’s their style, the best thing you can do is remember that they’re human too. They may seem cold and strict at work, but think of their life in context - this person has a family, childhood stories, friends who have seen them cry, hopes, dreams and fears. Seeing their humanness is the most productive step in talking to them, asking questions and learning from them, unafraid.
On the other side of the spectrum, there are bosses that you will instantly click with. Ones that you’ll grow to really know and love over working lunches, emergency coffee runs and after-work happy hours. In cases like this, it’s important to remember that while most of the time, your relationship will be a blend of professional and friendly, there will be times when you have to pick and choose. Formal staff meetings are not the time to bring up Sunday’s boozy brunch. Performance reviews are about your professional growth and should not be taken personally. It’s about knowing which mode is appropriate in context, and fluctuating between the two as necessary.
Bosses that don’t know how to delegate make your life more difficult. It’s really tough being at a new job and not knowing what the expectations are, what your marching orders should be. If you find yourself in that situation, you need to be a bit more proactive. Actively listen and closely observe, ask questions often and offer help on specific tasks and projects. Specific offers to help go a longer way than a general, “Is there anything I can do?”—they show that you’re present and doing your research. While not ideal, experiences like this can help push you out of your comfort zone and help you grow as a leader.
Newer bosses growing into their roles can sometimes fall into the category of trying too hard. Whether they manifest an over-eager desire to be your pal or a perceived need to be energizer-bunny-happy, these bosses can be draining at times. Get through with a little understanding, empathy and humor. Also, remember to ask for what you need—if your boss is relentlessly sunshine-positive all the time, don’t hesitate to ask for constructive feedback to help you grow.
Different than The Super Intimidating Boss, this boss is just a stress-fest. They are easily frazzled, and their default state is on-edge. In such an environment, you need to place a layer of separation between yourself and the emotions of those around you. Constant high levels of stress can become toxic and contagious, but there are ways to find inner peace among it all. Practice 5-minute meditation with your morning coffee. Make lunch plans with a friend or co-worker. Take a walk around the block between meetings.
Of all the bosses to encounter, the apathetic boss is probably the biggest disappointment. We all want our bosses to be mentors, leaders and champions for our growth and success. When that’s not the case, keep your head up high, and look for other role models and friends within the workplace. Maybe you’ll find other people to support you in all the ways that you need. Maybe you’ll be that person for yourself and realize that you can be a super scrappy self-starter. If not, it’s not an admission of weakness or failure to move on. Look for other jobs that provide you a healthier environment to learn and develop your skills.
Regardless of what kind of boss you end up having at your first, second, and third job, it’s important to recognize each as a learning experience. With every relationship, we’ll learn more about ourselves—our wants, our needs and the qualities we may want to embody ourselves one day as we enter the world of leadership.