Working with Difficult People: Part 4

14 Feb

Bosses come in all personality types. Some are overly demanding and never satisfied. Others treat us like children. Still others treat us like friends (when clearly we are not). And then there are the bosses who just won’t do their jobs. Today’s post is dedicated to a difficult person that must be handled very delicately: Slacker Boss.

Undated cartoon of a obese man sleeping in a chair with his hands folded over his belly.  The caption reads "Fast Asleep."  Undated Cartoon by Gillray.  Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Undated cartoon of a obese man sleeping in a chair with his hands folded over his belly. The caption reads "Fast Asleep." Undated Cartoon by Gillray. Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Once I had a boss who was famously unprepared, on a regular basis. At a meeting with dozens of partners before whom he was sent to present, he forgot to bring his Powerpoint slides. I spent the first half of the meeting’s agenda recreating his presentation for him, just in time for him to deliver it—newly minted after 10 minutes. Whew.

Another time, I had arranged a staff meeting for him with all 50 employees. Everyone filed into the room and was ready to listen to his words of wisdom, but he did not appear. Where was he? We had the handouts there, the projector was fired up and flashing a tempting title slide…but no boss. I sneaked out of the room and did a floor-by-floor search. Turns out he was two floors up, casually visiting with a friend…not a care in the world. Thirty minutes AFTER the presentation was set to begin, he waltzed in. Boy, that room was hot. Urgh.

In my industry, it’s important for people to look good. But PR for the Slacker Boss is difficult. Try as we might, we cannot gloss over laziness. He knows how to do his job, but he doesn’t put a priority on it. For me, there’s a real disconnect when I am working for someone who does not model the type of expertise and behavior I can look up to. It’s just not as fulfilling as working for someone who is intellectually ans psychologically “on it”—and cares about the work.

Reporting directly to a Slacker Boss is anxiety-provoking. Do we make him look good or not? If we do, people catch on and know that we’re covering for him. If we don’t, and he goes down, our job could be at risk. Another likely outcome is collecting resentment against the Slacker Boss, which does nothing good for us. Running through all of the scenarios to formulate the end of “If he had just…” drove me to distraction. It’s just not worth the time.

Blogger Chief Happiness Officer (what a title!), aka Alexander Kjerulf , has some good ideas for how to deal with the Slacker Boss. What it all boils down to is this:

Project, personality and boundary management

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Be clear about what you will handle, and explain this verbally and in writing.
  2. Don’t accept responsibility for Slacker Boss’s failings.
  3. Stay well-networked within your company to demonstrate your work ethic to colleagues and others up the chain from Slacker Boss, and ensure that you are not seen in the same light as Slacker Boss.

Tell me about your experiences with a Slacker Boss…I’d love to hear about how you managed this difficult personality.

4 Responses to “Working with Difficult People: Part 4”

  1. Caroline at 12:22 am #

    I’ve never had a slacker boss but I’ve seen slacker bosses happen to good people! Great post!

  2. gmonteith at 12:42 am #

    I have never had a slacker boss, but at one point in my career I had a boss who didn’t show up — not because he was a slacker — but because he would forget if he wasn’t reminded. This is almost as much of a problem.

  3. PM Hut at 9:41 am #

    Actually slacker bosses tend to make, IMO, some of the best managers out there. They tell you to do something and they don’t tell you how, and they forget about it (only to remember it when they’re asked for it by upper management). They’re not inspiring, of course, but they don’t put pressure and they don’t micro-manage (which usually makes the employees more creative).


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