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Old boss – mentoring and advancement opportunities. New boss – frustration, competition, neglect, stupidity and powerlessness.

What’s your strategy for getting ahead now?

In the last week, I’ve talked to three people in situation “new boss” – at all levels including a CXO (no, my friends, powerlessness is not limited to the minion ranks). So the topic seems ripe for an executive coaching post.

5 Ways to Advance Anyway – Despite A Dysfunctional Boss/Corporate Culture

1. Accept the Challenge.

No one can help you get ahead in your job more than you can, so when you face the situation of a superior (whether it’s a manager or the new Chairman of the Board) who’s got you in their crosshairs or is blocking your every move, the first step to accessing your own power in the situation is to accept the situation as an opportunity for you to demonstrate your potential despite obstacles. Whining won’t work if what you’re looking for is advancement opportunities.

2. Get Clear on Your Audience.

While the difficult individual may become a friend and advocate if you play your cards right and they turn out to be just clueless instead of malevolent, don’t start trying to win them over right away because this just gives them more power and you less. Be courteous, respectful and responsive, but view everyone but the challenging individual as your audience for your effort, including yourself. Will you be proud of what you accomplish and how you do it? What do your actions communicate to your peers, staff, clients/customers and others who are likely to be in positions to help when a 360 analysis or new job opportunity opens up. How can you give others the chance to help you?

This was Sarah’s strategy after the board meeting where the new Chairman didn’t back her up and left her hanging like fresh meat. By the next meeting, she’d lined up advocates in the room and didn’t need the Chairman’s support to survive.

3. Set Your Intention and Achieve Results.

Honestly, you probably can’t outthink total dysfunction, especially if the organization (i.e., the boss’ boss) supports it overtly or covertly. So don’t even try to rationalize the stupidity. Focus on your desired outcome – imagine it from every angle and commit yourself to realizing it in the world. You’ll be surprised at how this approach can help you identify ways around obstacles and even draw them to you when you start sharing your intended outcome with others. With your intention solid, achieve it. Set achievable intentions, nail them and move on to the next set. Whether for kudos in your current job or stepping stones to your next (or both), actual results matter. Intentions aren’t goals, they’re more adaptive to reality and thus a better measure and tool for success. There’s a method – learn it. It works.

Meg focused on this approach, using her toxic boss CEO’s neglect and fear that customers would complain to him personally, as leverage to test her own methodology for customer intimacy and relations. Focusing on the desired relationship with the customer helped her work with obstacles and craziness to put the essential system in place, prove its efficacy and make her case to the acquisition team so that her methodology became part of the acquired assets – advancing her reputation.

4. Speak Your Truth.

One of the most debilitating impacts of powerlessness caused by dysfunction is that you feel like when you speak up to help your new boss see the problem, you’re not heard or respected. And when the stakes are high – for yourself, the company, the customers – it’s even more rankling as you’re stymied from being able to do the right thing. In these circumstances, you need to learn to communicate at the deeper levels of principles and belief – to speak your truth. This is how you maintain personal integrity in this situation, knowing you’ve given your boss and company the benefit of your best advice and intent. But to be truly successful – in swaying the outcome and/or maintaining your own integrity – you must do this by releasing your need to be right. It’s tough, but you can learn to regularly and reliably tap into your own reserve of wisdom/insight in this way Learn how to do it well, without putting the boss on the defensive, before your next opportunity!

Anthony used this approach to turn a “lost” opportunity – where he disagreed with his boss, stated his case on principle only to be overruled – into personal credibility. When his boss began trusting him more in the future for being willing to speak up with meaningful perspective and not get into a power struggle when they disagreed, Anthony’s boss began to give him more tough assignments and listened more to his input in the future.

5. Distinguish Your Internal Power from Your External Power

Sometimes a bad boss is a sign. It’s not always a sign you need to run right out the door. Sometimes it’s a sign you’ve gotten too comfy, you need to buckle down, set and achieve some intentions, speak your truth, get clear and THEN run out the door – or off to the side – or up the ladder. Whatever your personal situation, use the shift into dysfunction as your wake up call to get clear on your personal power – your InPower. To the extent you see your fate as independent of the business culture around you, you gain power in that environment and it can help you move out or carve yourself a place in the current culture you can live with.

This was my story – going through multiple dysfunctional companies until I woke up one day and decided I deserved better. Every job and contract I received after that wake up call (many of which still had dysfunctional aspects to them) gave me a chance to claim more and more of my internal power to the point that I now see myself and my power as completely independent of every organization I choose to associate with. Rich took a different tack and targeted an independent contributor position that allows him to do work he loves with a minimum of exposure to the craziness of the home office. He loves going to work every day and establishes his personal power around his expertise and ability to help his customers despite the organization he works for. Pamela took yet another approach, put together a funding proposal for a new non-profit organization based on the goofiness of her old one and is now the Executive Director of a nonprofit that is helping more people more meaningfully than the old one could ever hope to.

As you can see, there is no single solution. Find yours.

This post originally appeared on the Reclaiming Leadership blog. Check out my new self-service women’s leadership coaching website: InPowerCoaching.com.

Dana Theus

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