Skills To Do the Work, Courage to Make it Happen

I’ve decided that I’m on a mission to create great bosses around the world. In so doing, together, we will rid the world of shitty bosses. Have you ever had a shitty boss? Have you ever been a shitty boss? I think I’ve been a shitty boss. Not all the time, but I’ve had my moments. And I have reckoned with those moments, working hard to get better and be better. It’s important to me that moving forward, my behavior does not inadvertently harm another person. Being the boss is an enormous responsibility. The mood of the leader is carried through an organization like electricity through wires. Daniel Goleman and his colleagues wrote about this electricity in their book, Primal Leadership. The effect the leader can have on the team is well chronicled in Jim Clifton and Jim Harter’s book It’s the Manager. They state that Gallup’s research shows that 70% of how an employee feels at work and therefore how engaged they are in the work, can be directly attributed to the manager. I’ve had a crappy manager. In fact, that shitty boss was the reason I left my last job. It felt so awful to go to work that I just had to eventually leave. I haven’t written or talked much about this experience, but a year later, I think it’s time.

Clifton and Harter note that micromanagement is terrible technique for supervising others but a worse technique with longer lasting and more detrimental effects is ignoring your employees. I was ignored. I was also micromanaged when I wasn’t being ignored, but it was being ignored that chipped away at my self-esteem and made me question my strengths. I walked into my role feeling confident in my skills and experience. I was hired to take the department from non-compliance, little to no positive outcomes and high turnover to a functioning team that served the community and met the standards of the State and Federal government. I did that and then some. With Strategic, Achiever, Futuristic, Command and Self-Assurance in my dominant talents, I was made to be a fixer. I grew the team by 300%, I set a standard for compliance of 97% or above, I built a team that worked gracefully together and provided much needed services to a vulnerable community and showed increasingly positive outcomes, not just outputs.

So what went wrong? As I worked hard to accomplish all of this, my team and the people I worked with on a daily basis astounded me with their drive, smarts, passion for the community and innovation. I felt energized and appreciated and that I was a part of a team with a shared vision. When I saw my boss, she seemed to begrudgingly acknowledge me as a person. I can see that this was likely due to her own insecurities and shy nature. She almost never acknowledged the good work of my team. She focused on things that in the big picture seemed unimportant at best and petty at worst. In many ways big and small, she made it clear that she didn’t trust me. But she never spoke to me about any of this directly. She didn’t ask questions or set meetings with me, ever. She left me alone, until someone else raised questions and then followed that trail to find fault. I tried to manage up, providing opportunities for us to get to know one another and build trust. Inevitably though, I failed. I could have been more courageous and led from behind more often but instead I avoided her too. I know she wasn’t a great boss. And I became a not great employee. Self-reflection and the journey toward self- mastery is a lonely and difficult road beset by obstacles, naysayers and often tears. I could have done a better job helping my boss become a great boss. And next time I hope I do that. For now, I will engage emerging leaders and help them learn the tools of leadership including the tools for leading from behind, if they need them.