Achieving Great Work with a Difficult Boss

April 13, 2015

achieving great work with a difficult boss

Michael Bungay Stanier is the founder and senior partner of Box of Crayons, a consulting company that helps organizations make the leap from Good Work to Great Work. He was named a Leader to Watch in 2015 by AMA. He sat down with AMA to talk about doing more great work.

AMA: How do you handle “turf battles” in achieving Great Work, and how do you courageously attempt Great Work when you have an insecure manager who either plots to hinder you or takes credit for your work?

MBS: That’s a great question but these are real challenges, and I don’t have an easy answer.  The answer I can offer up doesn’t really tackle the complexities of what it’s like to deal with difficult personalities.  But the truth is you need to get political about how you work within your organization.  And, you know when I say that, a lot of people furrow their brow and say, “Well, I’m not a political person. I don’t know if I want to do that.” But the truth is, understanding how people work, understanding who has control, and understanding who truly matters in your organization is paramount to actually getting stuff done. I mean, it’s the price of entry to be successful in your organization as you get smart about how you work with people.

So in terms of turf wars and those types of curveballs, you need to be figuring out, well, who are the Key Influencers and how do I use my skills to work with and engage those people?  And you want to be going out and having lunch or coffee with them, or grabbing them and taking them aside. It’s in those interactions that you’ll find ways to make your Great Work happen.

In terms of a tough manager, I empathize with those who have had these problems. I’ve had some managers that have almost crushed the life spirit from me in my past. So I totally get what that’s about. You have a couple of options. One option is to say, “I just need to endure this, and I’m not going to get my Great Work done under this person, and I need to start looking for a different manager.”  Another option is to say, “I need to do Great Work in spite of this person.  So how do I start thinking about managing around that person? Who else do I find to get on my side to help me manage that person? What if I let my manager take some of the credit if that allows me to do some of my Great Work?”

Truthfully, it’s about rolling up your sleeves and saying, “I need to be better at managing my relationships,” because you come to realize that you actually control very little in your workplace. Everything gets done through influence, and influence is about relationships. So build those relationships.


Learn more from Michael Bungay Stanier with this free webcast.


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About The Author

Michael Bungay Stanier is the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, a company that gives busy managers the tools to coach in 10 minutes or less. He's the author of five books, the most recent of which is The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever. Dan Pink calls it "simple yet profound". Brené Brown says "practical and inspiring."

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