The Rat Pack’s Guide to Managing Substandard Leaders

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I recently ran into one of the first managers of my professional life. To give you the shorthand, whenever I cite what a leader should not do, I am describing her 85% of the time. For some time afterward, I blamed her for being the “less than pleasant” person she was (and I can support my negative feelings with numerous “that can’t be real” horror stories). However, looking back, I need to take more responsibility. The truth is that I let her lead me that way.

We all have experiences with difficult leaders. One option is to jump from job to job until you find the perfect conditions. Besides looking bad on a resume, we can’t live out our careers in a perpetual “grass is always greener” scenario. At some point, we need to make the best of the situation at hand. If you’re willing to put in the effort, this will involve managing your boss.

If you’re asking whether this is backwards, think again. Just as we are molded by our surroundings, we too can take part in molding the people around us. By taking an active role, you stop being the victim. Consider it self-empowerment.

To begin this process, we first need to know what we’re up against. Start by grouping these substandard leaders. We can then develop coping tools to ensure your and the organization’s success. To help categorize, let’s utilize three iconic entertainers who formed the foundation of the infamous Rat Pack.

The Dean Martin

Dean Martin’s public persona was based on being at ease and aloof. Leaders who embody this persona don’t give direction, avoid details, and don’t seem to be fully engaged in the organization or their surroundings. They are fun to be around but difficult to follow.

When you have a Dean Martin leader, it’s up to you to take more initiative and accountability. If you can get the leader to pick an end-goal, you will have the freedom to determine how best to achieve it. Don’t bog them down with the minutia; give high-level briefings and an assurance that you have it under control.

The Sammy Davis, Jr

Sammy Davis, Jr was a worker. He sang, danced, acted, and played any instrument he could touch. Sammy would spend countless hours agonizing over every detail of a show, honing it to perfection. Leaders in this category are so capable that they resist giving anything away. Controlling is a common term for them, as is micromangers.

With a Sammy Davis, Jr leader you need to build their trust. Logically, they may understand that you know what you’re doing. Emotionally, they are not yet ready to cede authority. Show them the small steps you are taking to get the job done. As their confidence in you builds, your degree of empowerment will steadily increase.

The Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra was your classic authoritative leader – he was the boss and you did what he said. These leaders do not take criticism or direction well. They are thin-skinned, unpredictably volatile, and myopically results-focused. Priorities typically change without notice and even your best efforts often go unrecognized.

Frank Sinatra leaders fall into one of two camps. For some, you can earn their respect by taking the hits and occasionally hitting back. When you have a great idea, let them think it’s theirs. Try not to take what they are saying too personally; focus on the content, not the tone. Others in the Frank Sinatra camp are just plain mean. These individuals are unreasonable, immoral, and manipulative. The best advice I can give is to do your time but leave before they squash your self-esteem.

If you’re leader is not ideal, don’t just sit back and take it. Relationships are a two-way street so don’t rely on the leader to be the only contributing member. Take some ownership. Make changes to improve your situation. Then, if it’s still unbearable, at least you can leave knowing you did everything you could. Like Frank once said, “What I do with my life is of my own doing. I live it the best way I can.”

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