The past few weeks I’ve facilitated several sessions with managers and leaders. These sessions were with peer groups (people at the same level) and invariably, the “boss” came up. I was stunned at how many people tolerated to disliked or flat out hated their bosses. I do not have any quantitative data on this but I tell you, it was well over 90% within the small sample size I experienced. There was only one person I can recall who actually thought of their boss as someone they looked up to, who was genuinely a human being with attributes worth emulating, and who modeled the values and skills that they thought their boss ought to have. How is this possible? How can bosses be so poorly viewed by their subordinates?
I asked these folks how their bosses got to be in their supervisory position in the first place. Most say that their bosses were assigned to them – they did not pick them. Others said that they were simply looking for a job and did not think too much about who the boss was. Some said that they did not interview their boss during the interview process because they viewed an interview as “the boss interviewing them.”
I was also struck by how much impact bosses had on these folks. It appeared that the relationship with the boss was in many cases comparable to the relationship people had with their spouses and significant others. Why? The feedback was that bosses have incredible power over them, their salaries, reviews, schedules, and workloads.
Who is to blame here? Who should be taking responsibility for this dysfunctional relationship between bosses and their direct reports? The boss for being so unaware of the impact of their behavior and decisions? Or the employee for compromising so much of their values and dignity in the name of a paycheck? I was reminded of quite possibly my all-time favorite quote: Self-esteem is how you allow others to treat you.
I would argue the both are responsible with a personal bias towards bosses. I recall the first time I had people reporting to me. I was so frightened of doing or saying the wrong thing, so determined to be different from my own bosses, that I spend a great deal of time desperately learning how to be fair, nurturing, supportive, and also be able to hold people accountable for their performance. Ultimately, I learned that a place of work is place where people get together under an explicit reason to achieve certain goals, and be compensated for their efforts to achieve those goals. A place of work is not home, a social club, or volunteer position. In this context, both sides might be better served to understand their contractual obligations to each other, and treat this contract as the basis of their relationship. Managing expectations is key for healthy relationships. Employees might have overly unreasonable expectations of their bosses, and vice versa.
This week – I urge you to examine your relationship with your boss. What is the basis of it? How much control of your self-esteem are you giving your boss? Does your boss have to be someone you respect? Can you do what you love to do despite your boss? How well do you really know your boss? How well do you know your boss’s boss? How have your rationalized your dysfunctional relationship?