Because everyone should dig their job

Types of Bosses

By Terry Arndt

Mr. Burns. Martha Stewart. Pat Riley. Whether your boss is a hall-of-famer or a wall-of-shamer, your career depends on understanding what makes him or her tick. Or ticked off. When asked to rate components of job satisfaction, most Americans said that having a positive relationship with the boss is key. And having a bad boss is the ultimate morale buster.

“My last job seemed to be perfect,” said Katie Herzog, a marketing manager who recently quit a high-paying position at a major software company, “The office was sleek, my co-workers were creative and cool, everything was great. But my boss hovered over my shoulder, second-guessing everything I did, smothering me with his micromanaging. I tried everything I could to get him to give me some space and let me do my job, but he could not give up control. Finally, I had to leave.” Herzog did have the fortune to land a comparable job right away, but the move meant giving up an otherwise perfect position.

While your boss might not frustrate you to the breaking point, it is possible that your personalities don’t gel. Maybe, unlike Herzog, you seek guidance and regular input, but your boss only does fly-by check-ins between major projects. Or maybe you like to maintain a courteous professional manner in the office, but your boss thinks “colleagues” means “happy hour buddies.” Here’s a primer on the five types of bosses—and ways to deal with each type:

1. The “Micro-manager”

He maintains tight control over information and resources, requires constant feedback on progress, seldom gives decision-making power to others, can be closed to input from subordinates, and tends to question employees about their decisions, methods and results.

Bright side: Provides detailed instructions.

Dark side: Bottlenecks progress, causes employees to question their own abilities, makes work tedious and more time-consuming than necessary.

How to deal with a “micro-manager”:

  • Always restate your boss’s expectations and concerns out loud. This demonstrates that you hear and comprehend your task.

  • Take notes in front of your boss to show that you understand what he says is important.

  • Try to anticipate your boss’s questions and concerns and address them immediately. This will foster your boss’s confidence in your abilities.

  • Provide regular feedback to your boss on your progress.

  • Make sure to keep impeccable records of all of your work so that, if necessary, you are able to provide documentation of your efforts and justification for your decisions.

2. The “Hands-Off” Boss

She wants her employees to think and act independently – often expecting little or no interaction with employees until a project is complete.

Bright side: You have freedom and the chance to develop your own abilities.

Dark side: May leave you feeling abandoned or frustrated due to lack of direction, feedback and constructive criticism.

To deal with the “Hands-Off” boss, try to:

  • Gather as much information as possible from your boss at the start of a project. Ask lots of questions, confirm expectations, deadlines and consequences, and make sure you understand everything completely.

  • Find other resources that can help you complete your work – co-workers, documents, books, Web sites, etc.

  • Don’t seek feedback, ask unnecessary questions, or look for confirmation on your work until it is complete.

  • Keep a meticulous record of your progress so that you can provide your boss with everything she needs to evaluate your work upon its completion.

3. The “Buddy” Boss

He likes to avoid controversy and confrontation and will often go to great lengths to make sure his employees like him.

Bright side: Values a positive and friendly working environment.

Dark side: Has unclear expectations, avoids conflict even when necessary.

To deal with the “Buddy” boss:

  • Get a clear understanding of your boss’s expectations at the outset of a project.

  • Request regular feedback and advice from your boss as your work progresses.

  • Use non-threatening methods to request professional criticism, such as telling him that you value his opinion and would like an honest evaluation, or by asking him to suggest specific ways you could improve.

  • Praise your boss in front of co-workers, clients and other superiors. This kind of boss is concerned with your opinion of him and public accolades provide assurance that you respect and like him.

4. The “Over Achiever” Boss

She is a hard worker, perhaps even a workaholic – and expects her employees to work as hard, or harder, than she does. She sets the bar high and expects employees to succeed.

Bright side: May be a qualified, competent leader who inspires and challenges employees.

Dark side: Has unrealistic expectations and does not honor life outside the office.

To deal with the “Over Achiever” boss:

  • Make sure you understand what is expected of you at the beginning of a project, and address any expectations that you feel might be unrealistic immediately.

  • Request regular feedback and constructive criticism from your boss so that you can adequately gauge how your work is progressing.

  • Take advantage of every opportunity you are given to improve yourself, and let your boss know you are interested in training seminars, extra projects, or other learning and growth experiences.

  • Make sure your boss knows when you put in extra effort, like working late or over the weekend.

5. The “Threatened” Boss

He is insecure and may even fear losing his job. The insecurity may spring from being under qualified or from general paranoia. To maximize his feelings of security, he tends to stick with the tried and true and discourages innovation or any form of “rocking the boat” from his employees. He rewards employees who follow directions, and reprimands those who do anything that is not status quo – especially if it is successful and outshines his own efforts.

Bright side: If your boss feels he is under qualified, he may give you the challenging projects, which will help you expand your experience.
Dark side: Doesn’t encourage your talents or skills, acts as a wall between you and his superiors, naturally distrusts you, may take credit for your efforts.

To deal with the “Threatened” boss:

  • Develop a network of co-workers who can provide you with help and feedback in the absence of your boss’s ability to do so.

  • Build your boss’s trust and confidence by recognizing his accomplishments, abilities and experience in front of others.

  • Take advantage of opportunities to work with people outside of your boss’s sphere of control so that you establish relationships with others in the company who will recognize your talent and hard work.

Knowing what type your boss is, and understanding the best ways to deal with him or her, can help you anticipate issues, prevent problems, and keep you focused on your professional growth and well being. To that end, it’s important to work with your boss and learn from the experience—even if it is at times negative. If, however, your attempts to create a positive relationship with your boss aren’t reciprocated, it may be time to find a new job. When Katie Herzog reflects on her own experience with the process, she is happy she didn’t simply endure: “I know that I tried my hardest to work things out with my boss, and that’s very important to me. But it’s even more important to have a job where I feel valued and I look forward to coming to work every day. Life’s too short to put up with a truly bad boss.”