What to expect from your boss
Numerous scientific studies in fact, back the theory that all too often, bad bosses are at the heart of dissatisfaction at work and a dysfunctional relationship with the boss is one of the main motives for quitting a job.
In many cases, it would appear to me that this problem originates from two underlying issues:
- what people expect from anyone in the role of the “boss”;
- the idea that the relationship between bosses and subordinates is purely of a hierarchical, vertical nature in which bosses exert their power and subordinates have no choice but to “put up with” or “adapt” to what he or she says, thinks or does.
However, my view is that:
- both bosses and subordinates must have specific and more realistic expectations in individual situations;
- subordinates can and must manage their bosses; they have a vital influence over the type of relationship that is created and can maximise their bosses strengths and minimise their weaknesses.
Our expectations, one by one
Most people have very high expectations of their boss.
In order to accept and recognise that someone has more authority, a higher salary, greater flexibility (for example, when it comes to working hours) and the freedom to take decisions which impact other people’s jobs significantly, many expect this person:
- to be very competent technically and always more competent than others (“my boss must know more than me and demonstrate he/she is better than me otherwise why aren’t I doing his/her job?”);
- to be a good example all the time; this means being coherent in what he/she says and asks others and what he/she does personally (“my boss asks us to work overtime and then is the first to go home in the evening”);
- to be sure of himself/herself (“I think my boss is in a sea of doubt… I’ll pretend I didn’t understand what he asked me to do and do nothing… he might even forget or change his/her mind…”);
- to be capable of giving instructions and making clear, well-argued points (“my boss told me to do this but didn’t explain why or give me all the information I need, so what do I do now?”);
- to be clear and honest when explaining how things are going (“my boss never really tells me how the business is going”);
- to be fair and just with all staff all the time (“I didn’t get a rise while So-and-so, who never does anything, got one instead”);
- to be protective, i.e. always ready to defend his staff (“I expect my boss to go to Manager X who had a go at me during the meeting and give him a piece of his mind”);
- to be grateful and able to see and appreciate the efforts of his/her staff at work (“my boss takes everything I do for granted, never says thank you and has never paid me a compliment”);
- to be a capable decision-maker and problem-solver (“my boss pretends not to see the conflicts within the team and says we have to sort things out by ourselves”);
- to be a source of stimulation and ideas (“my boss always does the same things in the same way and never thinks of anything new”);
- to be kind, helpful and attentive to others (“my boss never has any time for me, often raises his voice and doesn’t even look me in the face”);
- to be passionate and enthusiastic about his/her job (“my boss never does anything”);
- to be a good teacher who is capable of passing on his skills and experience to others either directly or by providing training courses (“my boss has never taught me anything or sent me on any training courses”);
- to be ethically correct (“my boss is acting in his best interests rather than in the best interests of the company”).
In all honesty, people have so many expectations (which they often don’t voice but harbour deep down) that it would take a superhero (such as the one in picture) to satisfy them all.
Superheroes don’t exist
Therefore, if we start from the assumption that they are all reasonable expectations, it would perhaps be wise for “superiors” and “subordinates” to take a more realistic stance and identify a select number of expectations on which to base a working relationship.
Bosses should be able to:
- identify which expectations can be met (based on their strengths) and which are less easy to be met (because they correspond with their weaknesses);
- tell their subordinates which expectations can be met and agree with them how to limit issues arising from the expectations that are unlikely to be met. For instance, it is far better to say quite clearly: “I’m the sort of boss who will do everything to recognise and reward the work you do, but don’t expect me to be more competent than you are.” Or else, say “I always have doubts and am not afraid to express them but I promise I will always give you as much information as I can, so that you do your work effectively.”It is equally important for subordinates to rank their expectations, saying which they feel their boss has to meet and then finding the way of telling him/her.
For instance, you could say to your boss “I would like to receive recognition for my work from time to time, because this would motivate me, but I don’t expect you to solve my problems for me all the time.”
So the suggestion is that both “superior” and “subordinate” must make their expectations clear reaching an understanding of which can realistically be met and which cannot.
This approach does away with idealisations and generalisations, so that people are seen and respected as they really are, with their unique traits and natures.
Managing your boss
A hierarchical relationship does not always mean being on two different levels, one high, one low. This only happens when power is exerted, such as when taking responsibility for a decision, but in terms of technical competences, for example, it is absolutely plausible (and often auspicable) that the subordinate is more skilled than his or her superior.
So, for instance, if a superior does not live up to the expectation of recognising and rewarding the work of a subordinate, and never summons him or her for a performance review, there is nothing to stop the subordinate from preparing a self-assessment and asking his/her superior for a meeting to present and discuss it, so providing the superior with the necessary elements.
To sum up
boss/subordinate relationships work both ways
Subordinates have the power and opportunity to manage their bosses, intervening where bosses have weaknesses in order to limit or overcome the effects so that they do not jeopardise the overall outcome of the job. Needless to say, it is essential that bosses are clear about their strengths and the expectations they can meet. Bosses can also expect their staff to be able to pinpoint, accept, overcome, compensate for or limit the effects of their weaknesses. This, in essence, is what team spirit is all about.
#theartofworking is also the art of taking the first step and compensating for colleagues’ limitations