Bosses are people too

There has been so much written about how to deal with toxic bosses, that this month I’ve decided to balance the literature karma and write about bosses in a positive way. Of course, the very word boss has a negative connotation. Ask a Gen N’er if they like their boss and they’ll likely say, “Do you mean the person I report to? No one is the boss of me.” So this month’s article is dedicated to understanding and loving our bosses – flaws and all. Because bosses are human, of course, and the sooner you can deal with that, the better off you will be. Here are some thoughts on how to reframe your first reactions to seven common boss behaviours that make you crazy.

1.      Your boss is indecisive. You’ve been asking your boss to approve a course you want to attend, or sign off on your business case for hiring another team member. He or she doesn’t say no directly, but instead waffles and stalls and eventually the moment to move has passed. Look at it this way: Sometimes the boss has information about what’s coming that they cannot share. Sometimes they are right to be cautious. Sometimes they themselves are dealing with a boss who will not support the direction you want to go (or sign off on the budget). They might be picking their battles – and this isn’t a priority for them. In some cases, the boss is so busy they are actually forgetting to get back to you. If you suspect this – then go ahead and ask again.

2.      Your boss pits team mates against each other. There are some bosses who believe that a little bit of competition makes everyone work harder. Believe it or not, some bosses don’t even know they are doing this. They assign you something, and a day later, they assign it to someone else. It may be that they forgot. Or, they may be so desperate for progress on this issue that they can talk about nothing else. Maybe they see the advantage of having more than one subordinate thinking about a problem. They may be hoping for diverse insights. The person responsible for the issue may be unreliable or have a history of disappointing them. Whatever the reason, you can work it out with your peers and go back to the boss to say, “Jocelyn is going to handle that – it fits with her accountabilities and won’t distract me from my other work.”

3.      Your boss is never around. OK, let this one go. Everyone is so busy and there are few bosses that are sitting around waiting for their staff to drop in for a chat. If Ken Blanchard had to write the One Minute Manager today, it would have to be the 20 Second Manager – Every Third Day. Find other ways to communicate with your boss. Send an email. Phone and leave a voicemail message. Follow them outside to the smoking area. Arrive early to beat the rush – or stay late for the leisurely private talk. Get creative and find a way to get to them. When you do finally corner them – keep it brief and to the point. You’ll make it easier for them to become more accessible to you next time.

4.      Your boss is a dreamer. Your boss is very excited – because last night he or she dreamed up a new scheme for you to chase. If you are tired of running after silly ideas, then don’t. Let it incubate. Many dreamer bosses are living in the future and they are quick to replace today’s dream with another one tomorrow. Better yet, come up with your own cool idea and then pitch to your boss. Chances are anything new will excite them, and then at least you’re busy pursuing your own ideas.

5.      Your boss is stealing your ideas. You pitched the creative idea and your boss is taking all the credit. Before you knock the hero off the pedestal remember this – unless you are self-employed, you work for the company. Even brilliant software developers and famous animators sign off on their property every day they go to work. It’s great when a boss gives credit – but sometimes the idea goes into the great big all-ideas-belong-to-the-team hopper. If you feel betrayed too often, it’s simple to fix – put your ideas in writing. The next time your boss drops by for an informal chat and asks you for advice, hold back your brilliant ideas. Just say, “Um, I don’t know, I need to think about it.” Then send an email later.

6.      Your boss wants too many details. You’ve been with the organization for decades and you know exactly what you need to do. Your new boss comes in and asks a million questions, and wants a status update every minute. Before you have a fit, remember that they don’t know what you know. And it’s scary to be in charge of something that someone else is doing. (Some of us hate being in the passenger seat when someone else is driving.) So – lighten the load. Update them regularly, accurately and without a lot of fuss. Keep it neutral. Consider your boss your client. They need to know what’s up. Decide not to take offense or feel patronized.

7.      Your boss changes everything you bring to them.  Often this is happening because your boss wants to show that he or she can add value to the equation. Some people like to put their mark on everything they touch. It may be that your boss finds this is the best way to show you that they are interested in your work and are actually reading it. They may not want to slight you by handing it back untouched. Of course, they may be changing things because your work isn’t great and needs to be changed. That might be hard for you to swallow.

Jill Malleck is an OD Consultant with more than 25 years of experience helping teams and individuals in the public and private sector be more effective. Her interventions accelerate positive change. Call her at (519) 894-1198 for coaching, facilitating or HR project support.

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