Back Your Boss

I was recently talking with a friend who taught math in a large high school. She was complaining – again – about her principal.

“He doesn’t support me. He hasn’t a clue to what I do, and how hard my job is.”

“Interesting….” I responded.

“What do you mean by that?”

“Well, let me ask you: what do you do to support him?”

The phone line fell silent.

“You know… I’ve never thought of that before. In my entire career, that’s a question I’ve never asked myself!”

A survey by DDI Talent Management revealed that only 64% of the 1,200 people surveyed felt their manager provided the support they needed.  This reflects the employees’ expectation for support. Leaders must be motivating, fully present to the workload of their employees, acknowledge contributions, and reward results. The burden of success is on them, even though they can only impact the business through their subordinates. They must manage the high level supervisors above them, and be nurture their subordinates so they can succeed and grow. The higher a manager is on the company ladder, the more extraordinary qualities are expected. And, frequently, the less forgiving is their staff.

For all that employees expect of their managers, it is rare to find an employee that takes pause and considers what they need to do to ensure their supervisors have the tools they need to do their jobs.

We might find that while we expect tolerance for our own shortfalls, of our supervisors we expect perfection. Sometimes we even become competitive with our manager, certain that we could be more effective than they are. Yet, most of us forget the most basic rule of employment: our job is to make our manager successful in his role.  If the boss is successful, everyone wins. The company does well, and the employees shine.

Even more interesting is to examine the source of the critique. Very often we criticize in others our own confronting traits.  Consider the qualities you condemn in your boss and ask yourself, are these the very qualities I dislike or judge in myself?  Carl Jung, the renowned developmental psychologist, called this the shadow – an unconscious aspect of the personality which the conscious ego does not identify in itself. He said if a parent wants to reveal their shadows, they should pay attention to what they criticize in their children. The same can be applied to the workplace.  By identifying behavior in your supervisor that you don’t like, and changing your own behavior, the relationship will become healthier. For example:

  1. Do you feel your supervisor isn’t being open? Step up and share. You hate surprises. So does he. He shouldn’t hear about your staff issues, financial successes or problems from others. Make sure he hears it straight from you. Remember – your supervisor has to inform others of business developments. Make sure he has the right information, in a timely manner.
  1. Do you believe your boss isn’t supporting your goals? Support your supervisor’s objectives. You expect her to support your goals. Do you know hers? If you don’t know what her markers for success are, you can’t possibly support her achievements. If she achieves her goals, everyone wins. 
  1. Do you think the demands on you are too high? Bless the deadline. It is your manager’s job to delegate. Each time you are given a task, you have the opportunity to shine. It is as if you are put on center stage with a spotlight dedicated just to you. Welcome it. Step into it. And always perform on target. If you meet your deadlines, you secure the reputation of being reliable, and your supervisor meets his deadlines as well.
  1. Do you feel underappreciated? Say thank you.  We say “thank you” to our staff all the time. When is the last time you stopped by your boss’s office with unsolicited gratitude? When did you last thank her for your job, her advice, and her support? Stepping outside of yourself and showing a moment of appreciation goes a long way – for both of you. It helps you focus on the positive aspects of his work and promotes a trusting relationship. 

Work relationships are similar to those in our families  Just as toddlers don’t expect to take responsibility for their relationship with their parents, an under-developed employee will expect the onus of their relationship to fall on their boss. As children mature into adults, they appreciate their own impact on the relationship with their parents and relate as equals. A sign of mature professionals is the ability to be able to find their own opportunities for improvement in their criticism others, and to relate to their supervisors as peers. The opportunity for a flourishing relationship is just one supportive conversation away.


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