The authoritative leadership style Trump exhibits is not unheard of in the workplace, experts say.
If you’re feeling beaten down by a boss who’s demeaning you in front of others, it’s all about picking your battles and knowing where your power lies.
It’s a scenario the world has watched play out as President Donald Trump has publicly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump has attacked Sessions on Twitter and cut him down in front of foreign dignitaries. Sessions, meanwhile, has remained largely silent, at least publicly.
The authoritative leadership style Trump exhibits is not unheard of in the workplace, experts say. And while success can sometimes be found in confronting those bosses, it’s important to know when enough is enough.
“I do see a lot of situations where people either used to love their jobs or feel they would love their jobs if it wasn’t for even sometimes just one person,” said Jill Fahlgren, owner of Chicago-based executive and career coaching business The Possible Life. “And oftentimes it’s a boss.”
Maybe the boss feels threatened by the employee in some way or is taking out his or her anxieties and uncertainties on the worker. Employees can end up insulted or humiliated in front of colleagues.
Fahlgren’s advice on dealing with an aggressive superior? It depends on the situation.
See if there’s something you can do to relate to the boss differently and assess whether this is routine behavior for him or her, she said.
Having a calm and collected conversation with the person is always preferable, if possible, Fahlgren said. But first assess your superior’s style to figure out the best way to approach the talk.
“You don’t want to just go to them and say, ‘You’re being a jerk.’ That might not be well-received,” she said.
Try to make those conversations more about the issue than personalities, said William Ocasio, professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
If confronted with an overly assertive leadership style, employees need to figure out if it’s being done for the greater good of the company or just for egotistical reasons, Ocasio said.
“We don’t teach people to be authoritarian leaders,” he said. “But it does exist, and in certain situations it can be positive.”
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, for example — “some of the heroes of American business,” Ocasio said — had authoritarian styles of leading. They were known for being assertive with employees, sometimes shouting or demeaning people’s ideas.
But Gates and Jobs had a passion for what they were doing. “People (have) respect for them even if they don’t always like how they communicate,” Ocasio said.
That type of behavior is becoming less common as workplaces move toward more collaborative models, he said. Managers are typically more approachable in teamwork-focused offices.
Trump’s suddenly public distaste for Sessions stems from the attorney general’s recusal from the Justice Department’s probe into possible connections between Russia and Trump’s campaign and administration. The president’s aides have tried to steer him away from the public chastising of Sessions, The New York Times has reported, warning of a potential revolt among Senate Republicans.
Like Sessions appears to be doing, workers should choose their battles with the boss carefully, Ocasio said.
If you must fight one, know where your power lies, he said, adding that your reputation and expertise are part of political capital in the workplace.
“Not everybody can get away with challenging a boss the same way as somebody who has stronger political capital and power,” Ocasio said. “Another social power: You can always walk out.”
If it gets to the point that the stress is waking you up at night or you’re being asked to violate your ethics, it may be time to cut the cord, said Jill MacFadyen, owner of career coaching website CareerCoachJill.com.
Employees should make a plan before resigning, MacFadyen said. Résumés should be in order, LinkedIn profiles should be updated, and money should be saved for a potential gap in employment.
People living paycheck-to-paycheck may have to “grin and bear it for now,” MacFadyen said. But not forever.
Whatever the situation, employees need to take their careers in their own hands, said Fahlgren, the Chicago-based career coach.
“Sometimes people don’t recognize the power they have in their careers,” she said.