A difficult relationship with your boss can make every aspect of your work more challenging. But there are valuable skills you can learn from having a difficult boss:
What not to do: There is nothing like a front-row seat on unproductive behavior to help you crystallize your own professional values and style. Learning what not to do and noting the effects of this behavior on staff can yield leadership lessons more memorable than any business school could provide.
Self-reliance: A manager who is reluctant to provide you with adequate resources or direction can force you to become more resourceful and assertive. You may need to learn to gather the information or support you require from others or figure out how to move forward with a project when details are fuzzy. Similarly, a boss who does not recognize or appreciate your efforts can lead you to develop your own sense of the value of your contributions. The result can be a sturdier sense of satisfaction and confidence.
Learning opportunity: When working for a challenging boss, everyday conversations can seem like combat. View these interactions as learning opportunities — when it is worth bringing up an issue, when to push back and when to let a matter drop.
Diplomacy: Some of the most professionally valuable interpersonal skills, such as working toward compromise and building consensus, can be learned only by dealing with difficult people. In an ever-shifting work environment, the ability to communicate with those who see things differently than you is indispensable.
Team building: A mentor can be especially valuable for those who don’t find their boss to be role-model material. The situation might also spur you to form closer relationships with colleagues who may be struggling with some of the same issues you do.
A difficult boss can discourage you, cause you to question the value of your work or serve as an excuse not to deliver your best. But by treating the situation as a growth opportunity rather than a hardship, you give yourself a chance to emerge from the experience stronger and better prepared to meet the next challenges of your career.