When the Boss Isn’t Cutting It, What’s Really Wrong?

It’s no fun falling short. Most bosses know when employees don’t like or respect them. They often act like they don’t notice or are above caring.

Who can blame them for needing a coping mechanism?                                                         

As employees, we often assume our bosses know better—that they are ineffective on purpose. Everyone weighs in on what they believe the boss’s defects are

  • Poor communicator or decision-making
  • A pawn of upper management
  • Power-seeker who likes pushing people around
  • Biased or favorites player
  • Incompetent or in over his/her head 

Too often, the bosses don’t know what they’re doing wrong or are afraid to find out. 

Seeing things clearly 

Twice I was called by bosses who were faced with serious employee push-back problems. 

One told me that she needed help with her communications skills. Her employees told her she was too blunt, didn’t listen, and was impatient. “Could I help her fix that?” she asked. 

The second told me that his boss was exasperated by negative employee feedback that was rising up, with employees citing his impatience, unwillingness to “do his job,” and quick-trigger decision-making. “Could I help him fix that?” he asked.

To make a long story short, what was wrong were symptoms of what wasn’t there. 

These were two leaders who recently took over organizations where employees were: 

  • Unaccountable for results
  • Unaware of the declining conditions of the organization
  • Working in silos, adverse to collaboration
  • Protective of their position/situational power
  • Resistant to change

It wasn’t each boss’s personal style that was the problem but the absence of business best practices. They had both inherited organizations from predecessors who failed to lead

 Set employees up for success 

For bosses in this predicament, the first step is to refocus employees on the work and their roles. Success in business is about getting the right things done and not letting personalities, personal agendas, and unrealistic expectations get in the way. 

The two bosses I worked with were committed leaders—smart, courageous, visionary, and caring. So why were they perceived as being ineffective by their employees? They weren’t using basic management tools. 

Here were the issues: 

  • Employees were doing their own thing
  • No one saw the big picture
  • Expectations within and outside were unrealistic
  • Dissention and internal competition were rampant
  • Accountability was non-existent 

In each case, the bosses made no changes to his/her personal styles. Instead they implemented business management best practices: 

  • A “state of the organization” presentation to staff, clarifying the conditions and risks they were facing
  • A goals scorecard that stated in measurable/observable terms the outcomes to be achieved during the year
  • Updated position descriptions, rewritten, reviewed, discussed and agreed upon by the team
  • Individual performance goals developed collaboratively with the boss and each employee, aligning each employee’s work with the organization’s goals
  • Regularly scheduled progress meetings with action-oriented, time-boxed agenda items
  • Immediate dialogue to address issues, concerns, and performance 

Each boss put these tools in place. The first turned a declining non-profit into one sustaining positive growth and solid jobs in hard economic times. The second became the “poster child” for effective department management in his organization. 

Getting on the right track 

These two bosses were on the verge of seeing their careers go under because they assumed the problems they were facing were about their personal styles. Trying to remake themselves would have gotten them nothing but frustration. 

This is not to say that there aren’t some bosses with toxic personalities who are the problem. For them, supervising others is the wrong job and someone needs to fix that. 

Most bosses don’t have to change anything about themselves, but they must learn to cut it as effective managers! 

It takes time (and often courage) to get these best practices in place and there will be some employee resistance that bosses need to overcome. Without best practices in place, however, real improvement and employee engagement are highly unlikely. Are you ready to give it a try? 

Photo from Nathan & Jenny via Flickr

Come to the Rescue or Let ‘Em Squirm? Your Call! | The Value of Leadership Intervention

Ever been in a tight spot at work? Over your head? Out of your league? I sure have.

Terrible thoughts start to take over:

  • I’ve lost all credibility.
  • My career is toast.
  • I’m going to hear about this.
  • This is my last shot. 

If we could yell, “HELP!” we would. But would anyone throw us a rope?

“Hey, Boss, I’m over here.” 

If we’re lucky, we work around leaders who are willing to step forward when we’re in a pinch. They may be our immediate boss, someone higher up, an esteemed colleague, or a customer with clout.

We may get ourselves into situations like:

  • Being unable to handle a Q&A
  • Over-committing company resources
  • Irritating a customer
  • Making a faux pas with a bigwig
  • Overstepping our authority 

We don’t do these things on purpose. They are mistakes, oversights, and gaffs that we’ve gotten ourselves into but can’t get out of.

Our leaders are our hope. We need them to make things right again, so we can stay on the right track.

To help, our leaders can:

  • Insert themselves into the situation
  • Redirect discussion and facilitate agreement/collaboration
  • Defer actions and clarify expectations
  • Pull rank and impose direction
  • Take the fall for us (Ouch!) 

Good leaders are teachers with a kick! 

We get ourselves into fixes for lots of reasons: poor preparation, immaturity, impatience, and short-sightedness. The leader who rescues us shows compassion, empathy, understanding, and fairness. We deserve that the first time.

The leader who lets us squirm knows that until we truly “feel” the consequences of our goofs, we won’t grasp their importance and our need make changes.

Smart leaders have a tolerance for our missteps but not a penchant for them. When we learn, we’ll get points. When we don’t, we’ll feel it!

From squirming to rescue!   

1.) I was scheduled to meet with the COO along with my boss. I wasn’t feeling well that day and told my boss I felt a bit off.

At the meeting, I opened my mouth to speak and out come these sounds: “Tha thea, tha thea.” My boss looked at me, stunned.

He quickly interrupted whatever I was trying to say to give me a moment to regroup.  He turned the conversation back to me. I said: “Tha thea, tha thea.” I sounded like the cartoon character, Porky Pig, whose famously stuttered line was: “That’s all, folks!” (Right then, his words seemed to summarize my career!)

My boss jumped in again. The COO swallowed a laugh. Miraculously, I recovered.

On the way back to the office, my boss said to me, “What the hell happened to you in there!” What happened was that he rescued me!

2.) Rachel, a very smart, spunky woman, ran the field service dispatching department for me. It was a very tough job and she was its first woman supervisor.

I attended her initial storm debriefing meeting, involving the line supervisors from the field, Rachel, and her staff. There were lots of pent up issues in the room. Rachel focused on defending her people while the rest were gunning for her.

She wasn’t a great listener. The meeting rose to a higher and higher pitch. She lacked the experience to hold her own on her own. I let her squirm just enough to realize the situation but not enough to undermine her credibility with her staff.

Then I started to participate in the dialogue, got agreement for changes on both sides, and committed to ongoing improvement. Rachel got the picture.

Step up! 

Letting someone get skewered at work or anywhere else when they are giving it their best shot is heartless. No one is made better when that happens.

Being business fit includes taking the lead whether you have the position authority or not. When you know how to bail someone out of a tight spot, just do it. The loyalty and learning that result are worth your effort!

Do you have an experience where you were rescued or left squirming? How did it work out? What did you learn?