Your difficult boss may be insecure

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Your difficult boss may be insecure

Do you have a hard-to-handle boss?


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Published: Sun 25 Aug 2013, 9:16 PM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 9:13 AM

Does your boss bully you or others? Do they take credit for your successes or seem to set you up for failure? Do they give you confusing directions or fail to give you direction at all? Your difficult boss may be insecure. Jeanne Sahadi of CNN Money writes that your success may depend upon understanding that insecurity is the problem and learning how to make your boss feel more secure.

Sahadi reports that insecurity can cause bosses, supervisors and managers to act in a number of harmful ways. They may be perfectionists or micromanagers, they may have trouble making decisions, they may be unclear about giving directions but blame you for doing the wrong thing. Arrogance and bullying are very common ways that your boss may be compensating for their insecurity.

A 2009 study performed by researchers Serena Chen and Nathanael Fast found that incompetent bosses are the most likely to be bullies, reports Tom Abate of the San Francisco Chronicle. Being in a position of power raises standards of judgement, says Fast, and can easily trigger aggression. Chen and Fast also found, however, that boosting your boss’s self-esteem may help reduce such behaviour. When the researchers asked insecure supervisors to write about something that made them feel good, they became less aggressive. The scientists theorised that complimenting your boss on as aspect of their lives unrelated to work may help them to feel less threatened.

Fast joined with researcher Yeri Cho in 2012 to study this theory. In a series of experiments, the researchers found that people in positions of power that were feeling vulnerable did lash out at subordinates. They also found that when subordinates thanked supervisors for their feedback, no matter the content of that feedback, the aggression decreased. Expressing gratitude for their efforts affirmed the social worth of the power-holders.

So what can you do? It won’t help to seem as if you’re “sucking up” to your boss but viewing them as insecure can change how you react to them. Take care not to question their decisions in front of others warns Sahadi, and acknowledge their efforts when claiming your successes. Realise that their treatment of you may be stemming from something that has nothing to do with you and look for ways to help them become and feel more competent. Seek to become their ally and they may become a better leader because of your efforts. You’ll at least improve your working relationship with them.

If you recognise that this isn’t the path for you and you need to change jobs, executive coaching can help you determine your strengths, interests and skills. Executive coaching can also help you build your communication skills, emotional intelligence and assertiveness.

Do you recognise yourself in this article? If you’re a bullying boss or insecure leader, executive coaching can help you to lean on your strengths and develop your weaknesses. Emotional intelligence coaching can help you to manage your emotions and build productive relationships with your subordinates. Building good working relationships will help you to deliver the results your position may demand.

The writer is an executive coach and HR training and development expert. She can be reached at or Views expressed are her own and do not reflect the newspaper’s policy

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