Metaphors Gone Wild: Jellyfish and Bad Bosses


The jellyfish is one of the most flexible of all aquatic animals. Its soft body and gelatinous tentacles are dangerous, though. Its umbrella shape enables it to capture prey or to defend itself with toxic stings. There are metaphoric jellyfish in the workplace. Their indecisiveness can be painful. But, with some forethought, you can learn to deal with bad bosses–and most of us have encountered them at least once. In fact, the Center for Creative Leaders found that 75% of all employees have had at least one such boss at some point in their career.

While it’s easy to “go along to get along,” too much acquiescence can have negative impacts on your career. Time is wasted, productivity is impacted, and morale is diminished with bosses who can’t make up their minds. Here are tips to solidify decisions before the vacillation becomes toxic for all concerned.

–Take charge. Say something like, “I can do it this way, which you seem to be leaning toward, or do it this other way, which will get the job done more quickly. Which way do you prefer?”

–Ask for information. As you explore options, the boss will sometimes talk him- or herself into a decision.

–Find your boss’s preferred style of communicating. Duplicate it.

–Use an intermediary.

–Build confidence in your boss by provide facts and figures that will increase the likelihood of him or her making the right choice.

Perfection is an admirable goal. But, it can sometimes prove to the enemy of accomplishment. I once knew an administrative assistant who, while her boss was out of the office, would organize his calls in three ways–alphabetically, by time, by priority.

It’s important to keep in mind Peter Drucker’s distinction between efficiency and effectiveness. The former may be doing the right thing but the latter involves doing the right things right. In other words, we have to focus on the critical aspects of work and let the less important things go by the wayside.

If your boss is prone to perfectionism, help him or her by

–Focusing on the big picture.

–Knowing what his or her triggers are. Emphasize what will make him or her look good.

–Having a group meet with the boss to encourage an expedited decision.

Research from the American Management Association found managers value loyalty, commitment, initiative, organization skills, writing skills, candor, and uncommon sense in their subordinates. As appropriate, you can display/stress one of these traits in response to bullying behavior. Additionally, you can

–Match the behavior.

–Stand up for yourself.

–Stand up.

–On issues of questionable propriety, get his or her request in writing.

–When the boss stops for breath, jump in and ask that he or she slow down.

Employees typically don’t leave bad jobs. They leave bad bosses. If none of your efforts are working, discuss the possibility of leaving the job with those who are concerned about your good health. After all, as author and behavioral scientist Steve Maraboli notes, “Nothing is worth poisoning yourself into stress, anxiety, and fear.” If you can’t make a toxic boss more pleasant, you can surely leave a toxic environment.





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