When your boss is on the naughty list

When Your Boss is On the Naughty List

One of our most popular holiday posts is this look at Santa’s poor leadership in the classic Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer TV Special. Fortunately, Santa learns how to recognize and encourage talent. But what do you do your boss is the one on the naughty list?

It turns out that even the North Pole’s CEO had a question for Karin about why managers end up on the naughty list:

Insecurity and lack of training can get managers in trouble. But how can you best respond when you have a leader who’s making life challenging for you?

If you haven’t watched Rudolph in a while, you might take another look. Pay close attention to Harvey (the elf who aspires to be a dentist) and his interaction with Bumble, the abominable snow monster of the north.

Bumble is a menacing presence that looms over the North Pole and sends everyone scampering for cover when he looks their way. Sound like some bosses you know?

Let’s follow Harvey’s example as he deals with the fearsome Bumble:

1. Recall their humanity.

Harvey’s commitment to dentistry is so strong that he sees everyone in terms of their teeth. Even a scary monster has dental needs and Harvey’s the one to see them. The same holds true for your leader. They didn’t wake up that morning intent on ruining your day. They’re trying to solve their problems and doing the best they can with what they have.

This isn’t an excuse for poor behavior, harassment, or bullying. The goal here is to see the other person as a human being. They aren’t just a monster – they’re a complete human being with dignity, but who is struggling to succeed. You won’t be able to problem-solve or approach things constructively if you’re seeing them through a single inhuman label.

boss on naughty list

2. Try to identify what’s causing the problem behavior.

Harvey figures out that the Bumble has a sore tooth. People interpreted that pain as anger and hostility. As you work with your boss, what are the behaviors that concern you? Do they constantly wait until the last minute? Do they continually bug you and interrupt you from completing your work? Does their anger or intensity seem out of proportion to the circumstance?

In these situations, there’s probably an underlying concern that, if you can identify, you can address.

(However, if your boss is genuinely abusive, identifying the cause isn’t your job. In these situations, you can still address the behavior directly and then talk with your HR department, and, if the behavior doesn’t resolve, leave the team.)

3. Talk

Harvey has a conversation with the fearsome Bumble – and you can too. In most situations, it’s possible to talk with your boss, even when they’re acting from insecurity, fear, powerlessness, or lack of skill.

Use a gentle INSPIRE conversation. Eg: “Hey, I noticed that you’ve asked for this task three times today and seem to be very stressed about it. I promise I’ll have it completed by the time you gave me, but I’m wondering if there’s something else going on that we need to talk about?”

Often, just drawing attention to the behavior will help lessen its intensity. Other times, you’ll discover that there’s an underlying issue that you might be able to help address.

4. Solve the problem (if possible.)

Harvey pulled the Bumble’s sore tooth. That solution was appropriate and within his skill set and responsibility (as a North Pole elf dentist). The result was a happy Bumble who became an important part of the team.

As you talk and uncover more information, look for ways that you can solve the problem. When David had a boss who was frequently overwhelmed and frustrated, he would look him in the eye and say “I’ve got this. You’ll have what you need by 5 pm.” His boss just needed to know that a couple of the thousand issues he faced were under control.

You can’t solve your boss’s insecurity or lack of training for them; that’s not your job. But you can take responsibility and solve work-related issues in a way that gives them confidence. You can also augment their communication challenges by leading with a Check for Understanding, INSPIRE conversations, and even 9 What’s Coaching when it’s appropriate.

Your Turn

When your boss is on the naughty list, frustrating you, and starts to feel like a fearsome monster, it’s time to take a step back, get perspective, and look at the underlying issues. How can you see your boss as a human being and be part of the solution?

Leave us a comment and share your best suggestion for dealing with a boss who’s on the naughty list.

Happy Holidays from all of us at Let’s Grow Leaders!

5 Ways to Tame a Bad Boss

“Greg” called to share his news, “You know that situation with my boss is going a lot better! I decided to go on the offense and just keep him over-informed. He loves it. Now he stays off my back and I can do my work.”

Bingo. Another “bad boss” tamed.

5 Ways to Tame a Bad Boss

Sure I’ve met some loony tunes over the years. But I’m convinced that almost every bad boss situation can be made at least a little bit better with some proactive work on your part.

Sure he should know better, he’s the boss right? Perhaps. But do you want to be right, or happier at work?

We’ve got a lot more techniques in Winning Well and Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, but here are a few to get you started. 

  1. Get Your Asks Together
    If you need additional resources, tools, or want to attend training that will make you a better leader, you need to articulate a solid argument. Come with data, not emotion. The P.E.R.S.U.A.D.E. approach is a proven methodology that will help.
  2. Communicate Frequently In Bulleted Summaries
    Like “Greg” it might feel like overkill on your end, and if it is, your boss will tell you. But I’ve NEVER minded my team keeping me informed in easy to digest ways. Find a coding system that works for you both (e.g. FYI UPDATE ________ (project name) in the email heading.)
  3. Follow the “No Blindside” Rule
    If you’ve got bad news, be sure your boss hears it from you. Use the Winning Well D.A.R.N. method  of bad news giving.
  4. Ask How You Can Make Their Job Easer
    It’s likely your boss is dealing with pressures you don’t fully understand. Ask how you can be most helpful. Of course be prepared with a good answer when she turns the table and asks how she can best help you.
  5. Let It Go
    I know, easier than it sounds. But harboring resentment never does a relationship any good. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Forgive as needed and try again. 

More Secrets To A Great Relationship With Your Boss

When it comes to developing a great relationship with a boss, most of us can use all the help we can get. You have more power than you think.

I’ve been having a blast talking with leaders and writers on tips for creating a great relationship with your boss.

Their questions are challenging and ideas robust.

Today I share excerpts and insights from a few of these conversations.

If you haven’t yet seen my book, download a free chapter here.

Overcoming An Imperfect Boss

Interview With JJ Jarell – The Business of People in Leadership

Let’s start the talk with a podcast from JJ Jarell:

    • Karin shares her most embarrassing moment
    • Karin’s most awesome (and worst) boss
    • Document your own accomplishments
    • Getting your boss to trust you
    • Working with a disengaged boss
    • Broadening your network – turning to people who can help you

 Building a Better Relationship with Your Boss

Interview with Moe Abdou, 33 Voicesmoe-abdou

As a leader build your subordinate relationships with these R.E.A.L. principles:

  • Results:  Focus and measure results
  • Energy:  Make it energizing and personal
  • Authentic:  Invite candor and authenticity
  • Learning:  Make it about constant learning

Listen to the podcast or download the inspirational moments slideshow here.

How to Transform a Relationship with a Bad Boss

Interview with Leadership Freak – Dan Rockwell

Be careful that you don’t become like the bad boss. Bad bosses often teach us who not to be. Bad bosses are:

  • Unproductive – They run update meetings rather than collaboration meetings.
  • Demeaning – They treat people above them differently from people below them.
  • Closed – They’re not open to feedback.
  • Short-sighted – They don’t invest in development.
  • Confused – They have unclear vision and cause rework.
  • Wasteful – They waste people’s time.
  • Disrespectful – Common courtesy goes a long way to solving tensions.
  • Disorganized – No explanation necessary.
  • Indulgent – They think they’re above others and take special treatment.
  • Self-Centered – Their career is Their ultimate concern.

Become a great boss or employee by becoming the opposite of an imperfect boss. Dan challenged me by asking: “You’re telling me all about the wonderful bosses who supported you in your career what was it about you that made them invest so deeply.”

Questions like that sure make you think. I’ll ask you the same question. Worth closing your eyes and making a list. Read more and listen to interview excerpts at Leadership Freak.

Q&A With Karin Hurt: Overcoming An Imperfect Boss

Interview with ASTD – Julie Winkle Giulioni

Question: Have you learned more from good or bad bosses? Which do you think are more powerful teachers for most people?

Answer: Bad, hands down. If we can get past the frustration and allow the learning to seep in, bad boss behavior teaches us what not to do at a deep emotional level. We are more empathetic to the impact we’re having on others. Also, paying attention to your reaction teaches you to manage your own emotions and stress.

Read the full interview at ASTD.org.

6 Proven Ways To Work With A Bad Boss

Interview with Inc. Magazine – Peter Economy

Dislike your boss? You’re not alone.

According to research on the topic, three out of four employees say that dealing with their boss is the worst and most stressful part of their job. Two-thirds say they would happily take a new boss over a pay raise.

According to Karin Hurt, author of Overcoming An Imperfect Boss, “The secret to a healthy boss-subordinate relationship is to remember that it’s just that, a relationship. You’re two messy human beings doing the best you can.”

Read more at Inc.com

How to Manage an Imperfect Boss

Interview With Susan Adams – Forbes

Question: What if your boss is a jerk?

Answer: “The most important thing is not to become a jerk yourself,” says Hurt. She recalls a boss who periodically lost her composure and blamed her direct reports for her mistakes.

Hurt and three colleagues got together and initiated individual conferences with the boss. “First we said: something is not right and we want to help you.” Hurt recalls, “I told her how her behaviors were impacting me and I said: I must be doing something wrong.”

The boss wound up confessing that she was feeling undue pressure and acknowledging that she was taking it out on others. The lessons Hurt learned from this encounter: do not point fingers. Instead, describe how the boss’s behavior is impacting you and volunteer to share the responsibility.

Read more at Forbes.com.

There is No Such Thing as an Ideal Leader

People Equation – Jennifer Miller

The humanity of leadership is a key theme in Karin’s book. She says that one of the reasons she wrote the book is to help people understand that leadership isn’t about achieving an unobtainable level of perfection In the end, my very-human leader did me a huge favor.

It’s tough living up to a superhuman standard. Had I not seen that even the best–of–the–best sometimes do things that cause upset, I may have not been willing to step up to lead when the time came. Read more at People-Equation.com.

Important Note For Subscribers

I am working on enhancing my website and will be doing a migration this weekend. I will not be posting on Friday. We’ll be back new and improved next week.

Already read Overcoming An Imperfect Boss? Tell us what you think by leaving a review on Amazon.

5 Indications the Feedback is Not About You

Have you ever received frustrating feedback? Have you ever wanted to shout, “are you freaking serious?” “Have you looked at the impact YOU are making?” “I don’t want to roll like you.”

How do you know if the feedback is frustrating because it’s wrong or because it’s exposing a sensitive blind spot. What if it comes from your boss? It’s VERY TRICKY.

There’s usually a degree of truth worth exploring.

Start With Thank You

I always start with, “thank you.” And then decide. It never does any good to get defensive. You do not want to develop a reputation as “not being able to take feedback” (a sure way to take yourself off the succession planning “grid.”)

Here’s a line I’ve used (albeit VERY sparingly).

“I’ve heard you, I’ve thought about it for 3 weeks. I’ve gathered some additional feedback and although I appreciate your perspective, this is why I can’t change this behavior and why.”

I’ve also had a direct report say something like the above to me. I deeply respect that choice (warning not everyone will and had it been a different guy, in a different circumstance not sure how I would have reacted).

Be sure you’ve thought well. Some feedback that ticked me off early in my career turned out to be 79.6% correct

Of course, every now and then, feedback is not about you but about them.

How do you know?

“It’s Not About You” Feedback Indicators

  1. The feedback-giver is insecure and uncomfortable (warning, there could still be stuff to learn)
  2. The feedback is inconsistent with all other sources (ahh, but perhaps they have a different perspective)
  3. You have other signs that they don’t have your best interest at heart (are you sure?)
  4. You aren’t in the right job, but they are trying to mold you in (oops, this is about you, but the feedback will feel wrong find a more aligned job)
  5. Okay, the guy’s just a jerk (sometimes that’s true)
  6. ? What would you add?