Most people will encounter a boss they find challenging to work with at some point in their career. Rather than clashing with them, if you recognise that there are different management styles, you stand a good chance of finding a way of working together.

Tiger Mums / Ego Dads

‘Tiger Mothers’ – strict or demanding parents who push their children to be successful – are also seen in the office, said Jamie Cheung, programme director of the Masters of Human Resources Management at Hong Kong Baptist University.

“We are quite accepting of a paternalistic leadership style, where bosses may act as parents. Tiger Mums have high standards, are very competitive and they also care about their employees as well,” said Professor Cheung.

The male equivalent is the “Ego Dad”, she said. Based on the traditional Chinese family structure, this boss-employee relationship demands respect - the boss is your superior and talking back is not permitted. A good strategy for dealing with this type of boss is to try to maintain a professional distance.

“We have a Chinese saying that translates as ‘Do not drive too close to another car’. It’s best here to get a bit of distance and try not to be drawn in by the parental tactics,” said Professor Cheung.

The Narcissist

Narcissistic bosses enjoy thinking up grandiose plans without necessarily working out whether they are feasible. This can put undue pressure on staff, particularly if the boss has a track recording of being unsuccessful in his or her bold plans.

“Empress Dowager Cixi, a Chinese Empress in the Qing Dynasty, was known as being a narcissistic dragon lady and difficult to work for,” said Professor Cheung.

Professor Cheung suggests doing your best to ground a narcissistic boss by saying things such as, ‘That’s a great idea, but what do you want me to do?’ You must also be prepared to speak up if need be.

“You must be brave to stand up to a narcissist, because at the end of the day, if anything goes wrong it is you who will suffer,” she said.

The Dictator

Traditional bosses sometimes have a dictatorial approach, said Nick Lambe, managing director at Links International in Hong Kong. This isn’t necessarily a boss who shouts and screams his or her demands, but who simply states that this is the way something is to be done. Fortunately, he says, this style of top-down management is on the way out in Asia.

“They don’t engage in dialogue, don’t enable collaboration with the team or allow employees to talk about the challenges they face. This creates a situation where the employees are fearful of giving an opinion and don’t develop as individuals,” said Lambe.


Micromanaging bosses often feel insecure, don’t have control of a situation as a manager or are not able to delegate – so they take detailed control of things to reassure themselves that everything is under control. As is invariably the case with challenging bosses, the onus is often on the employee to step up and discuss the situation with their boss.

It’s not an easy conversation to have. Lambe recommends addressing it in a regular review meeting or booking a meeting with the boss.

“It’s best to be upfront and honest. Say, ‘I feel there is micromanaging going on here and I want to see how we can find a better way of working together,” said Lambe.

Lambe said that when both sides are able to understand each other’s needs, the issue is usually able to be resolved. Communicating effectively is the key.

“Try flipping things around and going to your boss before he or she comes to you and say, ‘This is what I’ve done, is there anything else you’d like me to do?’” said Lambe.

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