Have you ever had a bad boss? If this doesn’t apply to you, then there’s no need to read the rest of this column. … Interesting, you’re still reading. Over the course of a career, most people describe having had at least one bad boss. But what makes a boss a bad boss?
A colleague of mine, Dr. Steve Arneson, recently released a book entitled, “What Your Boss Really Wants From You.” Steve speaks to large groups of managers, serves as an executive coach, and lives in Colorado. He wrote about leadership development in his first book, “Bootstrap Leadership.” His just released book, “What Your Boss Really Wants From You,” is about what you need to do to promote your relationship with your boss.
How many of us have spent time whining with co-workers over coffee or a beer about our boss and how he or she is making our life difficult? How many of us have made a hobby of updating friends and peers about the latest bad interaction with the boss? At the end of the day, Arneson says, you are wasting your time. If you and your boss have an uncomfortable relationship, then you are going to have to find ways to make it work.
Arneson in his book describes three areas of focus:
- Study Your Boss
- Consider How Your Boss Sees You
- Take Responsibility for the Relationship
His basic premise is that you are not going to change how your boss is or behaves. It is up to you to adapt and make the relationship work.
Two of the things that I like most in the book are the series of Coaching Questions that Steve asks and the exercises that he asks people to complete.
In the first section, Study Your Boss, Steve has short chapters asking things such as, What behaviors does your boss reward? What is your boss trying to accomplish? What does he or she worry about? What is his relationship with his boss? What motivates your boss? These are all good questions, most of which I hadn’t given a lot of thought to, particularly with a bad boss. Steve in essence says that if you want to improve your relationship with your boss, then you have got to understand his or her world and what makes him “tick.”
The second section involves how your boss sees you. Does she see you as a star or just an average performer? Does your boss see you as supportive or are you a pain in the neck? How does she compare you to her other direct reports? Does she see you as having minor development needs or major skill gaps?
Which of your skills does your boss appreciate? What is she leveraging with others in the organization? Which of your skills is she ignoring? You need to take an inventory, understand the implications, and act to expand her view of how you can add more value. This exercise will really change you’re thinking if you allow it: “Wow, I never thought about my relationship with my boss that way. I never considered that there are things that I do well that my boss doesn’t care about. I never thought that it might be my responsibility to do a better job of ‘selling’ myself and my skills to my boss.”
In another chapter in this section, Steve asks the question, “What do you need to improve?” Steve suggests asking the boss, “So what do I need to work on to improve our relationship. What skills do I need to work on to add more value for you?”
In section 3, Steve suggests that you take responsibility for the relationship. He suggests that improving your relationship with your boss will come by modifying your attitude and behavior. He suggests that you modify your story. What does that mean? So far, the story has been one-sided (your side) and may be about persecution, being held back or whatever. It is a distorted reality that you invented and now you need a new story that is objective. Adjust your behavior. What things can you start doing, stop doing or do more of? Some of these changes may go against your personal preferences, but that’s ultimately your problem. Steve suggests that you capture these behavior changes in a development plan so you can be clear on how and what you need to do differently.
What is the old saying? Rule #1, The boss is always right. Rule #2, See Rule #1. Boss and subordinate relationships are one of the most complicated relationships out there. They can work, but they often need work and adjustment, particularly on the subordinate side.
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