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!

To All the (Jerky) Managers I've Known Before

I had asked the group to share their teachable point of view on leadership in the form of a TEDdy Talk (e.g. “learn to improve your speaking Karin Hurt style”.) Ultimately everyone would have their 5 minutes of TEDdy Talk fame, but tonight we were just practicing “Wow” openings. “Carrie,” who hadn’t said a heck of a lot before this, stood up and gave the most impassioned imitation of a horrible boss I’ve ever heard– as her “wow” opener. “Why can’t you do anything right!” She screamed (pretending to be her bully boss). “Everyone tells me you are smart, but I just can’t see it!”

And then she shared: “This was my morning today.”

The entire room fell silent.

After giving her a hug and a copy of my Overcoming an Imperfect Boss book, I realized I’ve never dealt with that. Close…but by that time that jerk surfaced her ugly head,  I was too seasoned for that crap. This was “Carrie’s” first serious job and she knew it was wrong. She planned to leave my book on his desk the next day as a conversation starter. (I know… I’ve already said a little prayer.) Either way, growth comes through bravery.

My Best Communication Advice For Jerky Bosses

I know you’re out there. There’s a reason my “Dealing with Difficult People” course has a waiting list (note pretty much all anyone wants to do is talk about their bosses).  But I also know there’s a bat’s chance in hell the bad guys are reading this.

So it’s up to the good guys to spread the word.

If you’re looking to help someone turn their temper into a productive conversation, here’s a process to leave subtly on their desk.

Start Here

First, I’m going to assume you are right, and that your frustration is well-founded. Someone did something stupid after at least 17 times of you trying to help them. You didn’t START thinking they’re stupid, but now you’re starting to wonder. What do you do next?

1. Connect

Connecting gives your adrenaline time to chill. Remembering you’re talking to another human being will go a long way in ensuring a productive solution.

2. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t sugarcoat. State the problem and implications clearly. Most folks appreciate calm, straight talk.

3. Inspire Confidence

What you need right now is people who believe they can fix this, not bruised egos doubting their abilities. Be specific about why you believe they can do this.

4. Ask Questions (and LISTEN) to the Response There’s likely more to this situation than you understand. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and then shut up and really listen to the response. Repeat.

5. Link to the Bigger Picture: Explain why this matters. Provide context. People always work harder when they know why.

6. Set a Clear Goal: Be clear about what must happen next and by when.

7. Involve Them In the Solution: You need as many brains as possible to fix this. Include them.

8. End on An Encouraging Note: There’s a reason that half-time locker room speeches work. Be sure they leave inspired to go-get-this, not fearful of what will happen when they don’t.

No one wants to be a jerky boss. If you know someone who lets their reaction get in the way of their leadership, do us all a favor, and pass this post along.

To All the (Jerky) Managers I’ve Known Before

I had asked the group to share their teachable point of view on leadership in the form of a TEDdy Talk (e.g. “learn to improve your speaking Karin Hurt style”.) Ultimately everyone would have their 5 minutes of TEDdy Talk fame, but tonight we were just practicing “Wow” openings. “Carrie,” who hadn’t said a heck of a lot before this, stood up and gave the most impassioned imitation of a horrible boss I’ve ever heard– as her “wow” opener. “Why can’t you do anything right!” She screamed (pretending to be her bully boss). “Everyone tells me you are smart, but I just can’t see it!”

And then she shared: “This was my morning today.”

The entire room fell silent.

After giving her a hug and a copy of my Overcoming an Imperfect Boss book, I realized I’ve never dealt with that. Close…but by that time that jerk surfaced her ugly head,  I was too seasoned for that crap. This was “Carrie’s” first serious job and she knew it was wrong. She planned to leave my book on his desk the next day as a conversation starter. (I know… I’ve already said a little prayer.) Either way, growth comes through bravery.

My Best Communication Advice For Jerky Bosses

I know you’re out there. There’s a reason my “Dealing with Difficult People” course has a waiting list (note pretty much all anyone wants to do is talk about their bosses).  But I also know there’s a bat’s chance in hell the bad guys are reading this.

So it’s up to the good guys to spread the word.

If you’re looking to help someone turn their temper into a productive conversation, here’s a process to leave subtly on their desk.

Start Here

First, I’m going to assume you are right, and that your frustration is well-founded. Someone did something stupid after at least 17 times of you trying to help them. You didn’t START thinking they’re stupid, but now you’re starting to wonder. What do you do next?

1. Connect

Connecting gives your adrenaline time to chill. Remembering you’re talking to another human being will go a long way in ensuring a productive solution.

2. Acknowledge Reality

Don’t sugarcoat. State the problem and implications clearly. Most folks appreciate calm, straight talk.

3. Inspire Confidence

What you need right now is people who believe they can fix this, not bruised egos doubting their abilities. Be specific about why you believe they can do this.

4. Ask Questions (and LISTEN) to the Response There’s likely more to this situation than you understand. Slow down, ask open-ended questions and then shut up and really listen to the response. Repeat.

5. Link to the Bigger Picture: Explain why this matters. Provide context. People always work harder when they know why.

6. Set a Clear Goal: Be clear about what must happen next and by when.

7. Involve Them In the Solution: You need as many brains as possible to fix this. Include them.

8. End on An Encouraging Note: There’s a reason that half-time locker room speeches work. Be sure they leave inspired to go-get-this, not fearful of what will happen when they don’t.

No one wants to be a jerky boss. If you know someone who lets their reaction get in the way of their leadership, do us all a favor, and pass this post along.