How Becoming the Boss Can Change You

Faults are often easier to see in others than ourselves. As employees we’re daily observers and targets of our supervisor’s style. What we see reflects what our supervisors have become. 

If we’re lucky, we’ve got a good boss. If not, we’d like to run for the hills. 

It’s hard to believe that ineffective supervisors used to be regular employees, like us. They had the same expectations from their own bosses for: 

  • Honesty and respect
  • Clear direction and the tools to do good work
  • Open communication and the chance to be heard
  • Fair performance feedback and opportunities to grow 

So what changes when those same employees become supervisors? Could it happen to you? 

What we see. 

There’s an endless list of perceived causes about what happens when coworkers become the boss or the boss’s boss or an executive. It’s a vicious chain that gets more toxic as poor supervisors get promoted. 

We often label those bad bosses as: 

  • Drunk on power and authority
  • Management’s pawn
  • Afraid of making mistakes
  • Micromanagers looking for scapegoats
  • Protecting his/her territory 

These changes, affecting one-time, regular employees who become the boss, are often the result of fear, confusion, and struggles for career survival. 

What they discover 

No one who gets promoted really knows what they’re getting into. It’s all rosy and can-do at the interview. The promoting manager fawns over the new supervisor, declaring how s/he has all the right stuff to handle the task. 

The hiring manager promises all kinds of support. “I’ll be there to help you. We’ll be a great team.”

This is fine and dandy if the hiring manager is actually a good boss. If not, things can go south quickly. 

Remember this: You don’t really know what you’re walking into until you get there. 

Tests that can change you 

As a supervisor or manager faced with these situations, what would you do? 

  • Your manager wants your performance ratings to form a bell curve. You have a high performing, veteran workgroup. You’re told to lower specific employee’s ratings.
  • You recommend the best candidate interviewed for a job vacancy. Your boss disagrees and tells you to hire someone s/he knows and likes.
  • You’re told to deliver a half-truth about the company’s financial shape.
  • Your boss insists that you receive recognition for work done by one of your employees because it will look more impressive to the board.
  • One of your employees, a valuable contributor, has objected openly to a policy your boss enacted. You’re told to build a case to get rid of him. 

Each of these situations challenges you to stand up for what you believe is right. Do you have the courage, influence, and leverage to resolve these fairly?

Or will you just do what you’re told, protect your own job, or make a token effort to do the right thing and then go along? 

These are knotty questions. They’re about how much you’re willing to put on the line. You will have to untangle a host of justifications, read between the lines, and weigh consequences. You’ll have to separate the right from the wrong.

There may be a lot of history, precedent, and perspectives to influence your thinking. You will now have insights that your employees don’t. Your vantage point is different from theirs and you will have to figure out how to bridge it. That’s what good supervisors do. 

Check yourself. 

If what you’re being asked to do doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. That’s the time to stop and think. Ask yourself: 

  • What are the impacts and implications of this action?
  • Who benefits? Who gets hurt?
  • What more do I need to understand? 

Keep asking “why” questions of your manager until you get the clarity you need. At the very least, your questions may be all that’s needed to influence a change in direction. That’s how your business fitness works for you. 

Tomorrow you may become the new boss somewhere in your organization. Better to be the agent of change than the victim of it! Everyone’s counting on you. 

Photo from cbanck via Flickr


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