This week’s blog is about the sensitive subject of challenging bosses. We all have, at some point in our career had a boss who doesn’t listen, or even worse, thinks they listen but really doesn’t. I’m going to share 3 scenarios from my own experience, and advice on how to handle this – and I stress, this is purely subjective, but hopefully will encourage discussion on even better approaches! You may think, “I listen to my people, so I don’t need to read this blog.” Wrong! You really do need to read on!
The “fixit for ya” boss: Sometimes you need your boss to step in and sort stuff out for you. This is often the case when you are just starting out as a line manager. You lack the experience to know how to fix a situation. Good bosses help you understand how to fix a situation and support you through it. Bad bosses take the issues away from you and sort it, leaving you dis-empowered to handle a similar situation. It also creates a “hero cult” around the boss, giving them an impression that no-one can live without them. Their team does not learn to stand on their own two feet, and the growth of the team will ultimately stall.
Top tip: When you raise an issue with your boss, be clear you want coaching not a solution. Say it every time at the start of each encounter until the message gets through.
The “knock your heads together” boss: The gladiatorial approach may have worked in Ancient Rome but has no place in modern business! No-one should be going head to head to resolve issues, and when you call on your boss to help, you really don’t expect to be thrown into the ring to fight to the death. Let’s leave this inappropriate behaviour at the door – it’s not sport, this is business!
Top tip: Call out any bad boss behaviour where confrontation is favoured over collaboration, and ask for HR help if you need it.
The “I can’t hear you” boss: probably the most worrying of all bosses, this character feels uncomfortable with conflict, and will generally deny or deflect the issue you raise with them. You might end up feeling like you’ve blown the matter out of proportion, and maybe it’s better to let sleeping dogs lie. But that’s just not right – you felt strongly enough to raise it, your boss owes it to you to listen, advise and support you.
Top tip: Sometimes we have to step into our boss’s shoes and get the right people round the table to resolve an issue. If you still can’t get a resolution, call in the help of a peer, other boss. If all else fail, escalate.
This makes for uncomfortable reading for good bosses – we reflect back on all the occasions when we were not good bosses. That’s OK, we all learn as we grow, and being reminded of previous bad boss behaviours are more likely to stop us doing the same mistake going forward.
For the boss that read this blog and thought, “none of it applies to me”, you’re probably most in need of a refresh with your team! Make a point of informally engaging your people to make sure you really are listening, and not just paying your people lip service.
And finally for the employee – we all have moments where our boss frustrates us, says something we don’t like or overlooks us in a project. Sometimes we all need to remember that bosses are human, just like us – and if you don’t try and talk to them, help them understand your perspective, you’re very unlikely to get your situation sorted. Most bosses are great people – sometimes we need to remember that!