What If Your Boss Is The Problem?
We all deserve to work with high performing leaders. They motivate their employees and increase satisfaction and productivity on their teams. However, we know that not all leaders are high performing, and some can display behaviors that are considered toxic. In fact, according to a 2018 Monster poll asking employees to describe their boss, three in four U.S. employees currently has, or recently had, a toxic boss. What can you do if this is your experience? Start with the belief that all leaders want to do the right thing for their organizations and employees. When you notice these behaviors, it’s your job to ask, ‘How can I support the leader towards improvement?’ The answer starts with building a professional relationship with your boss. When we build relationships with the people we work with, they’re open to receiving feedback because we genuinely care for them.
Opportunity to Support
This type of problematic leadership affects the organization’s employee experience, causing disengagement, which leads to an overall lack of productivity. Signs of toxic managers include micromanaging, passive-aggressive behavior, taking credit for team wins, employee favoritism, or a leader who is never around, to name just a few. Not only will negative behavior from your boss damage the company culture, but the effects travel home with you, seeping into your personal life and even your psychical health. Working with a low performing boss is actually an opportunity to build relationships that are mutually beneficial for you both.
Why should you seek to build relationships and support your toxic boss? Your professional relationship with your boss matters, and it can both positively and negatively influence your time at work. Taking the steps to a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with your boss will positivity impact your employee experience. Leader’s need continuous development, support, and feedback to keep their teams productive. Being a co-worker your leader can trust, confide in, and rely on might be the encouragement your leader needs to change their behavior.
Position yourself to be your leader’s right-hand man. When you share the information or skills your leader needs to perform better, you become the leader’s ally, a person they know they can count on. You’ll also benefit from this practice of your own leadership skills. It’s also worth mentioning that if you’ve noticed your leader’s poor performance, likely others in the organization have noticed, too. They will also likely notice all that you are doing to support your leader and help your team succeed.
Before condemning your boss as the “problem,” really try to understand what is causing your boss’s toxic behavior. Is there anything that you may be able to take off your boss’s plate? How can you help your leader? Understand what communication style they prefer, what are their “must-do’s,” and what drives them crazy? Try to think of all the people they manage, and their additional responsibilities and how you can be empathic about their schedule. Does your team recognize and reward the leader for a job well done? Taking time to recognize the progress your leader is making in the right direction may be the cheer they need. Do you regularly make deposits in your leader’s emotional bank account?
If the toxic behavior continues despite the support, and you’ve established a professional relationship with your boss, it’s time to consider approaching a courageous conversation with your leader. We recommend using a support-confront-support conversation model. The conversation may look like this:
Mr. Smith, I want you to know I really appreciate working here and the effort you put in to helping us become a great organization. You take time to help me understand my priorities and how those align to the organization’s goals. This is only my perception, however, on certain projects when I’m the lead, I feel you begin to over-regulate the project. This makes me feel like you don’t trust me and support my ability as a leader to make the project successful. I don’t believe this is what you intend to do. I want to ask you what I can do better, so that the next time I am leading a project, we can both feel successful and comfortable with its direction. Can you help me? (Work with your leader to find a solution, you may want to come prepared with one). Thank you again for your support, you really help our team stay on track with our goals and I appreciate your dedication to our work.
Help Your Boss Get Better in 5 Steps:
Look in the Mirror
- What is your relationship like with your boss?
- Is there more you can do to improve your professional relationship? Is there something you can do differently or stop doing?
Know Your Boss’s What
- What is the one thing that is most important to your boss? Or what drives them crazy?
- Do they hate surprises? Is it that every meeting starts on time? Etc.
- How can you make sure their “what” gets done, or gets avoided?
Have Empathy for Your Boss’s To-Do List
- Understand the many responsibilities your boss has.
- Think about their role, is there anything you can do to support them?
Look for Progress Not Perfection
- Is it getting better?
- Recognize the progress your boss has made.
Have a Courageous Conversation
- Begin with a positive focus using the Support – Confront – Support conversation model.
- Start with something they do well.
- Confront the behavior. Use phrases like, “This is my perception” and “What I’m feeling is”
- Close with something positive.