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Jun 27, 2016

I am unhappy with my boss… He doesn’t give me feedback…. When she gives me feedback, it’s really vague and unhelpful… He doesn’t do what he says he’s going to do… She doesn’t tell me what is expected of me…. He [insert your personal complaint here].

I have been hearing this a lot lately, even from smart and accountable people. Leadership is so important;  organizations struggle to hire and develop strong leaders. Employees seem to have very high expectations of leaders, and not a lot of tolerance for imperfection.

I just started watching the TV show “Lost,” (As usual, I’m woefully behind on popular shows.) and it made me think about leadership. If you don’t know the show, a plane crashes on a seemingly deserted island, and the survivors begin to make sense of their new world order.

Of course, a leader emerges from the rubble; a confident, apparently strong physician who immediately sets to work treating the wounded and dying.With this single take charge behavior, he becomes the de facto leader of the survivors. Some lean on his words for guidance, others criticize his every move.

He doesn’t ask to be the leader; he simply jumps in and does what he does best. It isn’t long before others are looking to him for a different kind of leadership. One person asks him to lead a memorial service for those who died. “Not my thing,” he says. Another suggests he should comfort a woman who lost her husband. “Why me, I’m not a psychiatrist?” I’m only on episode four of season 1 so I suspect his leadership role, qualities and resilience will be further tested.

Leadership is hard

But in watching this reluctant leader on the screen, I couldn’t help but think about all of the leaders who fall serendipitously into this critical role, only to find out just how challenging it really is.

Leadership is hard. I know. I have been a leader at the executive level for much of my career. The first promotion was exciting – new office and title, pay increase, a little prestige. Then I encountered my first highly resistant team member, and my journey to solving problems, mending fences, delivering bad news, fulfilling all of the requirements placed on me and facing challenges I never dreamed of, began. Oh, and dealing with politics. That one will knock even a strong and confident leader backward.

I wasn’t good at everything. Some things I did better as I gained knowledge and experience. Others just will not ever be in my skillset. I’m sure I probably let some folks down along the way.

That got me thinking. Indeed, this leadership role IS hard, it is multi-faceted, and it can zap the energy right out of you if too much is required of you that is outside your comfort zone. Of course, we don’t do a good job of telling prospective leaders what it is REALLY like, so many naively set out on the journey only to find that they are struggling.

Like that reluctant leader of “Lost,” we generally do the best we can do at that time.

Managers are caught between the demands of their superiors and the needs of their employees. Add to that the ever-growing reports that have to be produced or reviewed, the constant changes to the business, the pressure to produce results and possibly even their boss who has her own leadership challenges.

So what are you doing to help?

As I put that together with this mantra I keep hearing about people dissatisfied with their boss, my question becomes, “So what are you doing to help?”

It seems to me that dissatisfied employees have two choices: to act or not to act. If they act, they might actually be part of a solution. If they don’t act, change probably won’t happen. Then, they have two additional choices: move on or stay and be miserable. Their misery, however, begins to rub off on everyone.

What might a dissatisfied employee do, when faced with a boss who is not “bossing” in the way the employee wants? What actions might be helpful?

Offer help

Instead of complaining, ask, “It seems as if you have an awful lot of pressure on you. What can I do to help?”  If nothing else, it might be a welcome validation that someone recognizes the pressure. Often, that alone can help tremendously.

It also might be that the boss is reluctant to delegate. New (and some seasoned) managers worry that they are either overloading their employees, or that employees won’t do the task as well as they could. Offering to shoulder some of the work can open an ongoing dialogue about how to work better together.

Ask for feedback

Tell your boss that you believe you accomplished a task well, but that it would mean a lot to hear her thoughts. That approach lets the boss know her feedback is welcome and valued. Oh, and make an appointment – if overload is the problem, she probably won’t look favorably on an interruption.

Help out a manager who isn’t very good at giving feedback

Giving good and helpful feedback is a skill, and not all managers have that skill. Some offer platitudes without any substance, some are overly critical, some soften the blow by telling you five things you did well, and the one thing you suck at.

Perhaps you can open the dialogue by providing some specific details about what you think went well, and what you would do differently, to help the boss be comfortable sharing her thoughts. Let the boss know you are open to feedback about where you can learn and grow; that’s usually the most difficult feedback to give and knowing it is welcome can be quite a catalyst to good discussion.

Share your concerns authentically with your boss, not your colleagues

Boss bashing can be cathartic for a short time, but damaging over the long term. Most bosses want to do well by their employees, even if it doesn’t seem that way. By having the courage to take the first step in sharing your concerns directly, you build trust. By commiserating with colleagues, you participate in demeaning the boss’ reputation.

It’s for your boss AND for you

“Why should I bother helping my boss? He’s getting paid the big bucks.”

You will find that your own career accelerates when you demonstrate you are doing the best for the team, not for yourself. By initiating action to bridge a relationship, you are demonstrating maturity, judgment and influence, and growing your own skills and building strong relationships. By focusing on others, you grow and learn.

None of us is perfect, and there are rarely leaders who display talent for all of the various skills needed to be an effective leader. Rather than bring the leader down, why not help her grow? It might prove good for you, for her and for the whole team.

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