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Q&A25..My boss is a dictator

Dear Ammar,

I thought I got the dream job when I received their offer.  But now I found out that I made a big mistake.  My new manager, it turned out, is an oppressive dictator.  I first found that out only two days into my new job, when he got us all in a room for an impromptu meeting, to tell us: “I am the only one in this department who is authorized to take any decisions.  The rest are to follow orders.”  He is autocratic, belittling, impatient, and cunning.  I do not know what to do.  The company is a great company, but my bad luck got me under this manager.  If I quit, I will never get a chance to work for this company again.  If I stay, I am afraid I will not know how to deal with this guy and might end up fired anyways, as he is a trigger happy son of a gun.  What do you think?

Regards,

Ahmad

Dear Ahmad,

What you are describing is an autocratic boss.  They can be very unpleasant managers, and if on has a choice, he would rather not work for them.  However, I understand if you cannot afford to just leave your company or move to a different department.  I that case, there are some tactics that can help you maneuver around your manager, and if you are good at it, you might just be able to “upward-manage” him. 

First, it is important to understand what is autocratic management and the mentality behind the autocratic manager’s behavior.

Autocratic managers follow the most classical approach to leadership.  They retain as much power and decision making authority as they can.  Employees on the other hand are expected to follow her orders no questions asked.  Their behavior stems from holding on to old managerial myths that do not believe in or trust employees.  To them, employees, if not controlled and watched carefully, will take advantage of their manager and be lazy and less productive.  Employees, to these bosses, are trying to get their pay from the company without having to do any work, if they can help it.  They do not care about the company and are not competent or dedicated enough to make sound decisions. 

Therefore, these managers rely on threats, punishment, and coercion to control employees.  They do not trust them and are not interested in their input. 

First of all, remember that his style and behavior in itself is not your problem or your fault.  It is actually his problem and his responsibility.  One thing you do not want to do is to try to reason with them and change their ways.  That is almost impossible.  Not only will you waste your time, but you might jeopardize your position and provoke negative reactions from him.  Rest assured somebody else has tried, and he is no longer there to tell you about it. 

Do not pick up fights with this manager, especially if they do not concern you.  Meaning, you do not want to get into confronting him about his behavior and work style, except when he is directly insulting or abusing you.  Then, you confront and assertively stop the abuse, and show that you will not take insults from him.  The key is to do this without being defensive or coming across as weak, and at the same time not becoming offensive or disrespectful.  Remember you can be clear and strong without having to be vulgar or ill mannered. 

Instead of confrontation, focus your efforts on your work.  Understanding what results your manager expects from you and delivering on those results consistently without faltering and without getting too close or personal with this kind of manager. Keep your behavior professional and limit interactions as much as possible without jeopardizing the quality of your work.    

Remember that these managers need to see results, so focus on ensuring that they see the fruits of your work, because that is primarily what they care about.  Usually these kinds of managers do not have an interest in you as a person, or any of the employees for that matter.  They just want to see the job gets done.

Theory X managers do not like or appreciate supporting employees.  To them, that is like being asked to do baby sitting.  Your needs for praise, recognition, or support, are none of their concern.  They are not interested in caring for, motivating, or supporting you.  Just take care of business, as they desire and you shall be saved from their wrath. 

This type of managers will try to force their style and ways of working on you.  If this happens, do not try to argue or prove them wrong.  Instead, focus on your understanding of the desired end result they want to get, then get their consent to letting you “fine tune” their direction as the job requires, without you having to “bother” them with details, as long as you deliver the desired outcomes. 

Always deliver on your promises and commitments.  If they try to pressure you into committing to something you cannot achieve, then clearly state that their request is unrealistic and clearly state why.  Be confident in your position.  You do not want to lose credibility with this kind of manager.  

If you consistently deliver, you will, over time, gain their trust and be given more room to maneuver.  Once they learn to trust you, their behavior towards you will improve and they will allow you more freedom to take more decisions in your work.   

Do not try to compete with this manager or try to be a shining star at the department.  They will come back at you with a vengeance if you try to be popular or “steel their thunder,” so to speak.  They will shoot you down quickly if you undermine them regardless of the quality of your work.  Stay away from the limelight and never bad mouth the boss.  Also give him credit where credit is due for your work and for the results you achieve. 

All through this, remember that your manager was not born this way.  Maybe he himself feels forced to act the way he acts due to upper management or market pressures.  Having said that, remember also that this is not your ideal environment for growth and development, and being around negative influence for a  long time will eventually get to you and might negatively influence your behavior.  As soon as you can afford to, move on to somewhere with a bit more positive and healthy work environment where there is a more supportive boss.

Good luck!


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