How To Lead When Your Boss's Boss Is Bossy

Many leaders have faced the scenario where they are managing up to help their boss survive . And I do mean survive. Their immediate boss may feel “put-upon” and undervalued by their senior leader and as a result implodes consistently. This was what was happening to someone I met with this past week. What did her boss do when he was frustrated? He barked orders with tight timeframes. He accused his team members of not completing documents. He was overly critical on feedback and used inappropriate language when sharing it. This individual’s boss could barely get through his day without breaking down and becoming an ogre himself. Having such an “edge” only confuses an employee-boss relationship.

Having a difficult and angry boss is never easy to navigate but ultimately helps leaders learn important strategies and lessons. It’s usually pretty messy but cultivates stronger leadership.

Leaders grow the most when they are challenged to overcome hurdles.

Here’s how to lead when your boss’s boss is bossy:

1. Identify Where The Anger Is Coming From

When leaders hear mean-spirited orders from their boss their initial response is to shut down and become angry. We are deserving of respect and rightfully should never be treated that way. After licking our wounds it is helpful to take a deeper look to understand why our boss may be speaking in an inappropriate tone . Because our boss is also human, it can be eye-opening to see frustration from our boss’s perspective . That’s not to say to justify it. We just need to realize that maybe the pressure to meet a deadline or fix a project is being driven by our boss’s boss.

2. Separate Out Fact From Fiction

Make sure we are hearing all the facts and not getting caught up in the commentary. Ask yourself:

  • What is the real issue that my boss is upset about?
  • Which emotions do I need to discard to get to the truth of what is being shared?
  • How can I get a clearer understanding of what may be challenging my boss?
  • How can I keep my own emotions and anger in check?

  • 3. Validate Your Part Of The Solution

    This step may be the most difficult for many of us to admit but we need to see how we may be adding to the problem that our boss is facing from her boss. To do this we must own the way we are leading. Did we do everything we could to secure a strong end result? Could the problem be that our contribution wasn’t as complete and that resulted in our boss being reamed out by his boss? Just consider how you may have added to the challenge.

    Related: 5 Phrases To Eliminate From Your Leadership Voice

    4. Help Your Boss See Success

    Whatever the cause, now is the time to pull together with our boss and come up with a viable solution for success. An important aspect of leadership is empowering both our boss and our colleagues to look their best. When that happens the team succeeds.

  • Brainstorm ways to minimize the obstacle
  • Be empathetic to your boss’s frustrations by acknowledging them and resolving the issue
  • Offer your expertise to create a better end result
  • Be supportive and commit to making things work

  • An important part of leadership is helping our boss feel successful.

    5. Apply The Lessons You Have Learned

    With each misstep and mistake, leaders draw critical lessons they learn to use in future similar situations. The take-aways will only empower us to be stronger and more resilient the next time. When our boss sees our dedication to their success and the team’s achievements, they will be there for us too in times of difficulty.

    How do you lead when your boss’s boss is bossy? What has helped you and your boss overcome challenges?