One of the most common questions I hear during mentoring sessions is some version of "How can I change the way my boss...
Talks to me”
Listens to my ideas”
Gives me feedback”
And the list goes on…
The short answer is, “You Can’t”.
Well, you might be able to… (not my most popular bit of coaching)… by changing how you work, interact with your team, and support your boss.
The bottom line is this: The only thing we have any control over is our own actions, and how we react to any given situation.
Here are a few actions you can take that will lead to positive changes in your relationship with your boss:
Ease Your Bosses Workload
What are some of the tasks your boss does that he doesn’t enjoy, or those that consume a lot of his time? Ask if you can either take responsibility for this work, or create a first draft for him work from. Lightening the load of your boss is a great way for him to see you as collaborative and adding high value.
Say Thank You
Even the most difficult bosses have things they do incredibly well. Let your boss know how much you appreciate her support. Tell her in a 1:1, send an email, or leave a card on her desk. Be sincere in your gratitude, and very specific about what she does that makes your life better. Leaders are rarely thanked by their employees. Be the exception and show your appreciation.
Don’t Drive the Get-Away Car
I’m going to bypass the obvious “Don’t talk badly about your boss” advice, and jump right to “Don’t drive the get-away car”. Being a silent observer in a conversation doesn’t make you innocent; a listener is still a participant. When one or more people are engaging in negative conversations about your boss, the company, or it’s leadership team, excuse yourself from the conversation. Just like in a robbery, the guy driving the get-away car is guilty… and both get the same sentence!
Talk About It
Be vulnerable. Talk about how you are feeling with your boss. Focus the conversation on creating a better working relationship. Talk about what’s bothering you, and ask what you can do to improve the way you work together. Amazing things happen when we find the courage to open up with the intent to form better relationships.
One of the best pieces of advice I received during a tremendously difficult time in my career was:
Make it hard for your boss to fire you
The good news is that it usually takes a lot of work to eliminate a position or fire someone. When you get the initial inkling that this may be in the works, it’s time to amp up your efforts on activities that will help to keep you safe:
Increase your workload - When your workload becomes dramatically less, start drumming up new business! Think like an entrepreneur. Contact previous clients (internal and external) and ask if they have projects you can help with. It’s much more difficult to build a case for eliminating a position when you are packed with work that is valuable to the company.
Call in your internal network - Connect or reconnect with influential people in the company. Schedule lunch or a coffee chat before work. Find out about what they are working on, new products / projects you should be involved in, opportunities in the company where your skills and talents will bring value.
Take notes - Keep a small notebook handy to jot down things that you’ll need to remember if you find yourself in an HR discussion about your work or position. Be sure to capture the date, context, and be very factual and non emotional as you record events. Keep your notebook with you during 1:1’s, team meetings, and casual interactions. When you are back at your desk, type the notes into a word document, email it to yourself, and destroy the hardcopy note. You wouldn’t want your notebook to be found and read by anyone else, especially not your boss!
Focusing your attention on what you have control over during difficult times at work will put you in a much more powerful position, create the satisfaction of knowing you’ve done your best, and lead to positive change in everyday work habits.