7 Tips for Working With a 'Tornado Boss'

September 2019
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While working for a disruptor can be exciting and inspiring, it can also be a negative experience.

Some disruptive bosses have a dark side, with “a tendency to discourage collaboration, squash dissent and bury people under one absurd deadline after another,” says Sue Shellenbarger of The Wall Street Journal. “Casting oneself as a disruptive leader is in vogue these days, suggesting a bold, take-no-prisoners management style that ignites new trends and crushes competitors.”

These innovative and visionary leaders have big ideas and can often deliver — “showing drive, ambition and persistence in the face of challenges,” but they can also be competitive, controlling and difficult to work for, according to the Journal.

This confidence can sometimes feel like arrogance, as they often focus on one objective single-mindedly, making it hard to collaborate with others and meet the needs of their team. In turn, employees are often intimidated and hesitant to speak their minds, disagree with their boss or share ideas. 

Corporate trainer and author of “The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up,” Dana Brownlee, calls these managers “tornado bosses” because of their destructive impact.

Learn what your boss’s triggers and weaknesses are. Also find out what their preferences are to ensure a smooth working environment.

Supporting the boss’s ideas and then suggesting challenges can be a good approach, executive coach Achim Nowak tells the Journal. Say, “I’m not disagreeing. I want this to be successful, so let’s be sure we consider these things,” and don’t take things personally.

Here are seven tips for working with a tornado boss.

  1. Cultivate an ability to change course quickly.
  2. Ask the boss for help prioritizing projects to avoid overload.
  3. Don’t take your manager’s impulsive or overbearing behavior personally.
  4. Use your skills to complement the boss’s strengths.
  5. Learn from the disruptor’s positive traits, like social confidence and persistence.
  6. Know your own hot buttons to avoid reacting defensively.
  7. Ask colleagues for advice before offering the boss feedback.
Return to Current Issue The Culture Issue | September 2019
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