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Overcoming An Imperfect Boss

Overcoming an Imperfect Boss

My first book, Overcoming An Imperfect Boss is now on Amazon. I want to express deep gratitude to all in the LGL community who have grown with me in my Imperfections. Your insights are woven throughout this guide.

Why Talk About The Imperfect Boss?

I keep being asked why, of all the leadership topics I write and speak about, I would pick “imperfect bosses” as the topic of my first book. It’s quite simple. The supervisor relationship is the number one predictor of employee engagement and job satisfaction. Yet, most people screw up this powerful association.

The tragedy is that too many people leave the magic of what could be a game-changing relationship untapped. They follow traditional boss-subordinate protocol…they don’t get too close, don’t say too much, and don’t push the envelope. And so bosses come and go, and both parties muddle through. People do their best with the boss they’ve been given. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Some of the bosses who once made me crazy, grew to be lifelong mentors and friends. As I reflect on our journeys, each of these alliances had a transformation point. Something drove one or the other of us crazy, we talked about it, worked through it, and both emerged with a deeper level of respect.

Imperfect Bosses I’ve Known

There was the VP that blew a gasket because of a stupid (yet fixable) mistake one of my employees had made. He screamed and yelled at me just minutes before I had to grab a microphone and give a motivational speech to my entire organization.

I had choices. I could have become rattled and let his poor leadership choice screw up my ability to lead. Instead, I looked him in the eye and calmly shared, “I can see you’re really upset, and I’m sorry. We need to talk through what happened here and address it. But right now, I have hundreds of people waiting for inspiration. So please excuse me.” I turned around and left my office, not sure if I would have a job when I returned.

I gave my speech, fixed the mistake, and his entire demeanor changed. We never did discuss that outburst or what had triggered it. We didn’t need to. This “screamer” never raised his voice to me again, and became one of the best bosses and mentors I’ve ever had.

There was also the time I was running a large sales organization. I knew we needed to change the org structure and invest in additional headcount. I had a tight business case, and had proved-out the trial concept, but my boss was worried about the political ramifications of doing something different than the other Regions.

I told him, “I’m so confident that this will work that if it doesn’t you can fire me.” Of course that was highly risky, and I had to be prepared to walk away. But the depth of my passion and commitment, led him to “yes”.

We blew away the results, and became the best sales team in the Nation in that arena. Others regions followed our model.

The Imperfect Boss I’ve Been

Of course, sometimes I’m the imperfect one in need of reigning in. Not long ago, I was going through a really tough couple of weeks. The cocktail of challenges was impacting our performance. We needed stronger results immediately. I didn’t realize how much my stress showed on the outside. A trusted leader on my team shared bluntly, “You’re changing.”

The words stung with fierce truth. He was right. Succumbing to the leadership squash sandwich, I was taking on familiar, but unwelcome behaviors common in such scenes. I was showing up like the boss I refused to become.

I was worried about our mission, our cause, and our careers. My passion to protect my team had taken on an ironic intensity. My supportive style had morphed into frantic control. I began inviting myself to calls and requiring more rehearsals and executive readouts. Instead of trusting my competent team, I scrutinized each page of every Powerpoint deck.

My efforts to protect them from my stress had backfired. I had stopped leading like me. The words still echoing from the first conversation, my phone rang again. I now knew my team was tag-teaming this intervention.

“I joined this organization because I believe in your leadership. Your rare style works. Stay the course. We believe in you, in us, and the mission. Every one of us has your back. Just tell us what you need.”

There I was, a leader following the intervention of my team. They were coaching me back toward authenticity and it was wonderful.

My team reminded me that:

  • Showing up tough is weak
  • Servant leaders must also receive
  • Great teams hold their leader accountable
  • I want to know the truth
  • Great leaders tell the truth
  • Courage means staying true to your style
  • My team needs me to lead like me

Over the years, I’ve had employees tell me how I’ve hurt their feelings, overlooked their efforts, embarrassed them, or over-reacted. Every one of those conversations has made us stronger, tighter, and more effective.

The most brave of these folks, the men and women that have given me the most stinging (and true) criticism, have grown into the richest relationships.

The Imperfect Boss You’ve Had: Your Turn…

So in the spirit of celebration and community, please share your stories of overcoming. Do what you will to make it comfortable. Disguise the name, make it a story from long, long ago, change the gender, but do share.

Let’s have a celebration of journeys, growth, and imperfection. If you find the book helpful, I’d appreciate your reviews on Amazon to help spread the word. Want to hear a bit more? Click here for some quick video insights.

Filed Under:   Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication
 
 
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt
Karin Hurt is an experienced executive, speaker, and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, training and organizational leadership. Her company, Let’s Grow Leaders, helps companies gain a competitive edge by building extraordinary front-line teams. She was recently named to the Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior by Trust Across America. Karin knows the stillness of a yogi, the reflective road of the marathon runner, and the joy of being a mom raising emerging leaders.
 

Join The Conversation

What People Are Saying

Alli Polin   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Huge congratulations, Karin!!

I’ve worked for imperfect bosses and I’m most definitely far from perfect as well. Truly, we’re all human and some days will not be days that make us proud or we wish we had as a part of our legacy but once the words are out, we can’t take them back.

I can’t wait to read it!

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Alli,
Thanks so much. Every boss is imperfect in their own way, that’s our collective leadership challenge. I’m looking forward to our writing collaboration.

Mauro Turrisi   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Karin. What a wonderful topic. I have often found myself to involved in work where my employees are more than confident and not giving other the opportunity to shine. Most recently I have had some wonderful leaders but I often find myself comparing them instead of embracing their strengths. I need to constantly remind myself that all are my teachers.
Congratulations on your first book.
I cant wait to read it and look forward to future topics.

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Mauro, Thanks so much. You raise a really important point. There is something we can learn from every every leader we work with, from both their strengths and imperfections. Comparisons and wishing they were like someone else is just not that useful. Thanks for putting up with my imperfections.

Jon Mertz   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Congratulations on the launch of your book, Karin! Good or imperfect, learning from our bosses is so essential. I have learned a great deal from each person I have worked for — things I would not do and things I do today. This is a great topic and am sure your book will be read by many and serve as a point to learn and grow further as leaders! Congrats! Jon

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Jon,
Thank you! Writing it has been such a fun process. I too have learned so much from my many bosses (and team members) over the years as well. It’s so important to keep learning. Leadership is never handled

Terri Klass   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

I have worked for imperfect and insane bosses as well as caring and nurturing ones too. I once had a boss who questioned everything I did to the point of me getting angry before any interaction with him. Did I learn some leadership lessons from him? Absolutely. I did learn that being an empowering leader is way better than a control freak.

Congratulations on the book, Karin! Looking forward to reading it!

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Terri,
Thanks so much. I’ve also formed a lot of my leadership philosophy based on how I’ve felt in when in the position of followers. There’s something to be said in working to become the boss we wish we had.

Rick Foreman   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Great reflection. I’ve always been a fan of the “Walk the Talk” series, which causes one to think about walking in the other’s shoes for a while. Our behavior contributes towards our character based upon the choices we make. My imperfection and the imperfection of past bosses creates an opportunity for developing the characteristics of a servant leader. Not always comfortable or fun but as I’ve made the decision to do the right thing, good things happen. As a coach and mentor, I’m consistently focused on helping myself and others improve what we control. Along the way, that opportunity to influence bad bosses or others towards the good remains an exciting challenge.

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Rick, So great to have you join the conversation. Your point is exactly the main focus on this book. Understanding how to influence the relationship and teak more control over your own career.

Joy Guthrie   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Congratulations on your book launch, Karin! It’s a wonderful topic. Looking forward to reading.

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Joy, Thanks so much. Always appreciate your support.

Emily Snook   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

My imperfect boss was unrecognizable as such when I first encountered him. I was young and talented; he gave me a fantastic upward mobility opportunity; I thought he was my mentor. Over time I began to see that he was leaning on me; riding my coattails; using me and my loyalty to him. I had seen him mistreat people close to me, but was somehow blinded. When I came to, I was – confused; I felt guilty; i was angry; I felt stupid.
After a few years – of working in separate universes – I came to a point of internal forgiveness, thankfulness, and peace.
I reached out to him and briefly told him what he had meant to me, what his opportunity had afforded me, and that I was thankful.

And left it at that.

Karin Hurt   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Emily, Thanks for sharing your powerful story and the choices you made. Awesome to have you join the conversation.

bill holston   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Just bought it, I’ll read and pass on to my direct reports, cause they sure have an imperfect boss. A question, I don’t really like the term boss, although my staff uses it. Did you debate using that term i the title.

I’d like to encourage our community to buy this book, and write some reviews.

letsgrowleaders   |   28 March 2014   |   Reply

Bill, thank you and thanks for bringing that up. As you’ll see in the foreword from Dr Henry Sims, author of Business Without Bosses, there are likely very few people who disdain the “b word” more than me.

I use the word deliberately to be provocative. Thinking of your boss in such power terms puts the relationship at a disadvantage from the very start.

Much better to think of your “boss” as a “messy human being doing the best she can… Just like you “

Jesse Lyn Stoner   |   29 March 2014   |   Reply

Congrat, Karin! Your new book is excellent. I just ordered a copy for my niece who is struggling with her boss and I’m looking forward to sharing it with others.

Karin Hurt   |   30 March 2014   |   Reply

Jesse, Thanks so much. I so appreciate all of your support, and for your powerful endorsement.

Rebecca@TakeThisJobOrShoveIt.com   |   30 March 2014   |   Reply

Bad bosses really do exist and they can make your work and working environment stressful. To handle such situation remember this 3 words: patience, focus and respect. Try not to get distracted by your devilish boss and instead focus on your work. Try to make your thread of patience a little bit longer and of course he is your boss so still show some respect.