There is no doubt, your relationship with your boss is the number one predictor of your job satisfaction. Studies have shown that your feelings about your boss, even trumps your satisfaction with pay.
It matters how it feels to come to work each day.
If you don’t have a perfect relationship with your boss, you’re not alone. It doesn’t have to be that way. You have more power than you think.
For the next 2.5 minutes, I’m asking you to replace any feelings for your boss that feel like “frustration” with the inquiry of “intrigued.”
You can improve this relationship. You should. Here’s how.
Why It’s Hard
The boss-subordinate relationship is unnatural by design. We sell our power for money. We look to a person we have not chosen (whom we may or may not respect) for affirmation, evaluation, and reward.
In order to “succeed,” we strive to figure out what will make the guy like us and adjust our style accordingly. We take every criticism to heart, even when we don’t believe it.
We take this already unnatural structure and impose even more awkward performance feedback systems.
Imagine if we burdened our home relationships with some of the same formal systems we impose at work.
“Honey, I’ve decided to give you an end of year appraisal. Your cooking’s improved, and you’re taking out the trash without being reminded, you get an A in housework. But you’ve ben so stressed lately; I have to give romance a B-.
We wouldn’t even consider that stunt with our children, where we have more power.
If such tactics wouldn’t work with people who know and love us, why would we imagine they would enhance trust at work?
The Secret to a Great Boss Subordinate Relationship
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.
Beginning in the space of imperfection offers much freedom and power. It’s not your boss’s responsibility to motivate you, develop you, or direct your career. That’s your job. Sure the best leaders will help you grow, but never forget who’s really in charge.
Seeing your boss as a flawed human being has other benefits too. Instead of judging him on how well he’s doing, focus on how you can best support him. Not in a “kissing up” or “if I do this, he’ll owe me that” sort of way. But because you’re too messy human beings in a relationship, working on the work.
Regardless of whether your boss is the best one ever, or a royal pain in the butt, there’s a good chance your boss also:
Wants you to succeed
Is dealing with pressures you don’t truly understand
Sometimes feels overwhelmed
Is trying to please a boss too
Is working to balance work and family
Is doing the best she can
Can use your help.
Starting the Conversation
One of my favorite bosses had such highs and lows that we gave her two nearly matched Barbie dolls for her desk. The first was immaculately dressed in typical Barbie fashion, matching skirt, shoes and pearls. The other doll wore ripped clothes, had magic maker on her face, and hair that looked like it had been eaten by a cat.
We chose a “good Barbie day” to approach her with our plan. Our request was that she put the doll out that be portrayed her mood as a warning sign. We knew that if “evil” Barbie was lurking, we needed to lay low. Not ideal for sure. No one wants a moody boss.
And yet, she accepted the gift with a smile. She used the dolls, and requested, for our benefit. Thankfully, she got the point when one of use went to her shelf and switched the dolls.
There was also the Vice President who 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 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 about what happened here and address it. But right now, I have hundreds of people waiting for me for inspiration. Please excuse me.” I turned around and elft 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 specifically discuss the 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 or mentors ever had.
Great Questions to Ask Your Boss
So you’re not ready to go the Barbie doll or walk away and pray route? Set up some time with your boss and come prepared with a few great questions.
Start by sharing how interested you are in her insights. A little flattery can never hurt in this arena.
Express your desire for deeper feedback that will help you be more effective for the company. Ask for specifics that will help you identify some new behaviors to increase your effectiveness.
Take it all in and step back and consider the possibilities from the conversation. You don’t have to agree with it all, but if you want to open the door for richer insights, it’s important that you respond well.
Of course you don’t want to bombard your boss with all of these in one sitting, but here’s some options to get the conversation started. It matters less what you ask, then just getting the dialogue started.
- What specifically can I do to better support our team’s mission?
- What do your peers say about me?
- If your boss were to give me one piece of advice, what would it be?
- Who should I be working with more closely?
- What could I be doing to make your job easier?
- To what do you attribute your own career success?
- How can I be more effective in that arena?
- Which parts of my style concern you the most?
- Specifically, what do I need to work on to be ready for ___________ (insert the job or assignment you are most interested in here).
What if He’s Really a Jerk?
Now, you may be thinking. “Seriously, my boss would just laugh and close the door if I asked him for such an appointment. What do I do then?
If you think your boss is a jerk, and everyone else does too, I challenge you to go deeper. Get to know her. Tell her the truth. If everybody’s frustrated she knows it but doesn’t know how to fix it. Chances are under all that crap, she is starving for help. Don’t bring the band, or the wagon. Someone will speak the truth, why not you?
Don’t Let a Bad Boss Make You a Jerk
Whatever you do, don’t sit around commiserating about the jerk . Stay focused on the work and avoid the gossip. If you need to talk to someone chose HR or some other formal support.
Pay close attention to how the stress is impacting you, your team, and your family. Find folks who will tell you the truth. Jerky behaviors are contagious, so be sure you’re staying true to your leadership philosophy.
Find ways to ground yourself: exercise, mediation, and prayer are all good options. Remember that you are you, and this jerky boss is just one transient person in your life. This season will end, but you will live with who you are becoming forever.
Use the Experience to Develop Your Leadership
You can learn as much from a bad boss as a good one. Pay close attention to the impact your boss’s behaviors have on you and your teammates. What doesn’t kill you will make you a stronger leader. Keep a journal or make a running list. Make a vow to never be “that guy.”
Should I Quit?
“People don’t quit jobs, they quit people.” If you’re a leader, know this is true. If people keep leaving for other opportunities, it’s not them, it’s you.
But if you’re considering leaving your job because of a bad boss, think well. Bosses come and go. Don’t waste all you’ve invested because of one jerky guy.
On the other hand, if you jerky boss is just one part of the problem, look deeper. If you’re not making an impact, feel emotionally exhausted, trapped, or feel like you’re not using your skills, it may be bigger than a bad boss issue.
Everyone has a boss. Why not be the guy who makes a career out of building extraordinary relationships with yours?