How To Be A Better Team Leader: A Case Study

I used to be one of those disengaged reps, you’re talking about.” We were all a bit shocked by Mike’s response. After all this was a recognition focus group for the top reps in this enormous call center. Several of whom were on the short-list to become team leaders.

I smiled gently, my eyes pleading for this brave, young rep to continue. My team leader was just terrible. The rest of the high potential reps turned to him in a chorus of disgust:

  • “It shouldn’t matter what your team leader does.”
  • “You are in charge of your career.”
  • “You need to do great work and people will notice.”
  • “You should care about the customers no matter what.”
  • It’s about building a bigger network.”

Mike continued:

“It’s more complicated than that. When I first got here I was so optimistic. I worked my butt off, but my team leader didn’t notice. He never said “thank you”. I got ZERO feedback on what I was doing right or wrong. We never talked about my career. So I gradually did less and less and got the same response. So I figured, why bother?

Then they re-shuffled the shifts and I got moved to a different team leader. Everything changed. This guy cared about me. He gave me great feedback. He shared all the career options available and we made a plan to get me ready to lead a team. He helped me believe I could do it. And now I’m here being recognized.”

Silence. The others still weren’t convinced. And for some reason, a little mad. I asked softly, “How many of you want to be team leaders?” All but one raised their hand.

You End the Story

Instead of sharing what I said next, let’s play with this:

  • What would you say next?
  • What questions would you ask?
  • What teachable point of view would you go for?

5 Ways To Benefit From A Disengaged Boss

Ideally your boss is interested, eager to remove roadblocks, asking provocative questions, and helping build your career. That’s the leader I wish for you, and want you to be. But, with 71% of workers disengaged, chances are one day or another you’ll work for a disengaged boss.

5 Benefits of a Disengaged Boss

On the surface it sucks. Your team’s killing themselves and your boss is just not paying attention. You ask for feedback, and he says everything is “fine.” Your updates fall into a black hole. You worry about your team, and your career.

Cheer up, played well, there’s upside to a disengaged boss:

  1. Freedom to Experiment – Don’t go crazy, but try creative approaches to improve the business. Pilot that new idea. Try leading differently. Enjoy the freedom to try new things without the need to constantly read out on your every move. Then package your success stories and share best practices.
  2. Broadened Network – Your boss is not the only one you can learn from. Having a disengaged boss can push you to broaden your network. Seek out mentors and other advocates. Look for opportunities to interface with his boss. Invest in your peer relationships.
  3. Marketing Your Work – You’re going to have to work a bit harder to get your work noticed. Use this opportunity to build those skills. Work on streamlining your emails and improving your presentation skills. Schedule time with your boss and others to share information and get the feedback you need. Reach out to other stakeholders. Having to work a bit harder will build important skills.
  4. Strategic Thinking – A disengaged boss will force you to work a level up. Consider what you would say in his position. Learn as much as you can about the bigger context for your work. Be the boss you wish you had.
  5. Teambuilding – Nothing brings teams together more than a common cause. Invest deeply in your peers. Leverage one another’s skills. Support each other’s development. A disengaged boss won’t be around for long, but your peer relationships can last through your whole career.