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Difficult managers, supervisors and small-company owners can be hard on their subordinates -- sometimes for reasons that have little to do with the subordinates. A boss on a power trip often has an insecurity problem and wants to strengthen his place in the hierarchy. Working with a boss on a power trip, rather than avoiding or resisting one, will help you better cope with the situation.
Define the Problem
A boss on a power trip hungers for control over others. According to executive coach Jennifer Newman, people on power trips are self-serving and put the interests of the group after their own interests. A power-tripping boss will break the chain of command and give orders to low-level employees who have direct supervisors, even when the boss could ask the supervisor to talk to the low-level employee. A department director on a power trip might repeatedly tell the department manager that the manager’s methods are ineffective and consistently mandate new procedures.
Look for Causes
Try to determine why your boss is on a power trip. He might be afraid of another manager he considers a rival. Your company might be going through layoffs, and he might fear for his job. Your boss might have a subordinate who’s more qualified than her. In some cases, your boss might just suffer from a lack of self-esteem.
Reassure Your Boss
Make it clear to your boss that you know he’s in charge. Show him that you agree with him when he makes decisions by complimenting him, advises Melissa Dahl in her 2014 "New York Magazine" article, “Your Insecure Boss Doesn’t Want to Hear Your Ideas.” An effective compliment can be as simple as “Good idea, I didn’t think of that.” Asking your boss for suggestions demonstrates that you feel he has knowledge you lack and that you value his opinion. Get approval from your boss before trying something new; this eliminates any perception that he doesn’t have a say in how his employees operate. If you can do it without seeming like a brown noser, compliment your boss or give him credit for something in front of his superior.
Document Your Boss’s Behavior
If your situation becomes so bad that you have to report your boss or take legal action, you will have a stronger case if you can document repeated instances of your boss’s bad behavior. Keep a log and include dates, your boss’s inappropriate behavior and who witnessed the behavior. Do not keep this record on your computer and make sure to take it with you each time you leave the office. Save copies of emails from your boss or co-workers that provide examples of your boss’s power tripping.
If you don’t feel you can continue to work effectively with your boss’s behavior, set up a private meeting with her to try to resolve the problem. Offer examples of her behavior that are causing you to be less effective and offer solutions, recommends Hara Estroff Marano, writing for "Psychology Today." Try to avoid personal criticism. If your boss doesn’t accept your view of the situation, escalate your complaint by going to your boss’s boss. This can result in your termination if you can’t make your case; for this same reason, you might not be able to rely on any support from co-workers. If all else fails, contact an employment attorney to determine if your boss’s behavior constitutes harassment or if you have grounds for a wrongful termination suit.
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Sam Ashe-Edmunds has been writing and lecturing for decades. He has worked in the corporate and nonprofit arenas as a C-Suite executive, serving on several nonprofit boards. He is an internationally traveled sport science writer and lecturer. He has been published in print publications such as Entrepreneur, Tennis, SI for Kids, Chicago Tribune, Sacramento Bee, and on websites such Smart-Healthy-Living.net, SmartyCents and Youthletic. Edmunds has a bachelor's degree in journalism.