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How Is Your Leader Led?

How Is Your Leader Led?

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By Nate Bennett
Forbes

“Everything flows downhill” is a familiar expression. At work, the organizational chart depicts each employee’s place on the hill and consequently their exposure. Though the expression is generally used to express resigned frustration, not everything that flows downhill is bad. Clear communication, constructive feedback, and praise are examples of things in which employees freely frolic. That said, employees often receive news and treatment most politely categorized as dreck.

To cope, it can be tempting to simply try and sidestep this flow as it makes its way down, but it contains elements that can be worth consideration. By paying attention to this flow you gain insight in to how your leader is led. Then, you can leverage that insight to improve your relationship with your boss – and increase your value as a follower.

Recognize that just as you are working to be a valuable follower to your boss, she is trying to be a valuable follower for hers. The energy your boss expends while managing up has implications that flow down to you. When your boss becomes exhausted from managing theirs there is less energy for you. Further, you may find yourself confronted with the wreckage of any emotional fallout from stress in the relationship between those two.

Being thoughtful about this allows you to position yourself as a critical resource to your boss. Thoughtfulness should make you a more effective follower. It might make you a more empathetic follower. To the degree you can help with her challenges, the two of you will be happier and more successful as you together navigate the torrent of detritus flowing down the organizational chart.

Below are descriptions of some stereotypical bad bosses that might be familiar. Along with each are suggestions about how you can support your boss as they suffer under theirs.

The Micromanager

What Your Boss is Experiencing

When people are asked to describe a most dreaded boss, the micromanager is frequently mentioned. If your boss works for a micromanager, they are experiencing excessive and invasive supervision. The feedback your boss receives is always picky and often negative. The relationship between the two individuals lacks any meaningful level of trust. As a result, the relationship is stifling, tiresome and unrewarding for your boss.

How You Can Help

While striving to satisfy a micromanager, your boss will be distracted. When you do have her attention – or some of it, anyway – she will need time to breath before really being able to listen to you. The toll of the micromanager will be greater towards the end of each day and each week. Consequently, recognize the best time to work with your boss will be early in the day and early in the week. The only way your boss approaches a win with a micromanager is through grinding away towards the creation of trust. Your boss will be trusted when her boss sees her as able, reliable, and loyal. Your value increases to the degree you help her make that case. Anything you can do to make sure your boss is prepared with timely, accurate information and plenty of supporting documentation as they manage up will support their trust building effort.

The Bully

What Your Boss is Experiencing

A bully creates a toxic environment for your boss. In some instances, the bullying is blatant enough that the organization is forced to confront the culprit. In other cases, colleagues quickly size up the situation and those who can, leave. While leaving resolves their own dilemma, the bully remains in place for others to endure. The most difficult bullies to dislodge are those clever at making sure no single act is egregious enough to warrant intervention. Instead, they carefully deliver a sum total of abuse that is unbearable for followers. When working for a bully, your boss is traumatized by repeatedly being subjected to a range of alarming tactics, from the degrading to the maddening.

How You Can Help

A clever bully is certainly one of the hardest things to suffer at work. Your boss will feel both rage and humiliation in alternating cycles. After all, he is in an abusive relationship. To be clear, the only right thing to do is see that the bullying ends. Being brave enough to bear witness, documenting abuse, and speaking on the record are simply necessary ways for you to aide your boss. While the two of you are working through the procedures in place to deal with an abusive boss, it’s essential to provide him with support. Abusers who are socially skilled and in a position of power are difficult to unseat and you don’t want your boss to lose their resolve before the battle is won.

The Narcissist

What Your Boss is Experiencing

Narcissists initially appear to be appealing as colleagues or supervisors. They are confident, generally charismatic, and usually charming. It doesn’t take long, however, for it to become obvious what matters most to them – themselves. Narcissists want constant praise and credit. They have no problem manipulating others to create glory for themselves. They simply do not think much about the needs of others. Your boss is expected to spend much of their time genuflecting and receives little in the way of support, encouragement, or credit for work well done.

How You Can Help

There are two ways you can support your boss in this situation. First, it’s important to recognize how frustrating it will be for your boss to work under someone who not only fails to offer thanks but actively steals credit for her good work. As a result, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to cheerlead and offer support. Second, it is difficult to get a narcissist to buy in to any effort that could be taken as a criticism of the leadership they have provided to this point. Narcissists don’t want to be told how to fix something. Instead, help your boss frame initiatives in a way that stress the glory that will accrue to the leader from successful execution of an even better way to move forward.

Absent Without Leave (AWOL)

What Your Boss is Experiencing

Anecdotal evidence suggests the AWOL boss is on the rise, no doubt facilitated by the increasing frequency of remote work – by both the boss and the subordinate.  In other cases, a boss is AWOL because retirement or another sort of job change on the horizon has caused them to check out. As a result of this leadership vacuum, your boss is experiencing a sort of abandonment and with it a feedback void. This can be disorienting because what constitutes productive work becomes a guessing game. Strategic direction may be unclear. Decisions from above that are necessary for progress may be late or not made and communicated at all. Together, this allows a sort of paralysis to set in on your boss.

How You Can Help

Framed in the most positive way, the AWOL boss provides a considerable growth opportunity for those below. A chance to take charge is offered by the vacuum they create. Of course, not all organizations would embrace such initiative and it may be the AWOL leader causes things to eventually grind to a halt. But where seizing the day would be encouraged, a valuable activity for you is to carefully and continually document what was done, when, and why. This documentation – to show how the best possible actions were taken in the most thoughtful way – will be valuable for your boss whenever their leader chooses to resurface. Regardless, you should strive to make sure your boss gets the most out of those rare moments where her leader is plugged-in. Since you can’t be sure when the next opportunity will come, be sure your boss always has all she needs to get approval not just the most pressing decision, but a string of likely upcoming decisions.

The Peter Principle’s Poster Child

What Your Boss is Experiencing

It may be that your boss’s boss has risen to their level of incompetence. At least in this case the frustration your boss experiences as a follower is not the result of malintent. That is cold comfort, though, because incompetence in a leader is not benign for followers. There is a lot that needs to happen that won’t happen. The leader predictably fails to provide, in a nutshell, leadership.

How You Can Help

In some ways, this describes a situation where your boss finds himself doing two jobs – his and that of his leader. Since neither you nor your boss can count on his leader to have the ability to understand nuance or complexity in decision making – or the nature of the consequences from a decision – you and he will have to work hard to present situations to the leader in a way that helps guide them towards a decision that moves the organization closer to its objectives. You have to anticipate and articulate the contingencies that a savvy leader would have recognized on their own in order for them to become a part of the decision-making process.

The Naysayer

What Your Boss is Experiencing

The naysayer’s first instinct is to say “no” to your boss’s ideas. This hesitance is rooted in their comfort with the safety of the status quo and the fear of reputational damage if seen as having made a mistake. Naysayers can be brought around when it comes to new ideas but even if your boss has a reputation for success, they are going to experience the frustration of being turned down repeatedly and the fatigue of needing to continually regroup in order to earn a go ahead.

How You Can Help

There are three things you can do to help your boss manage a naysayer. First, though it is hard and slow work, find ways to help your boss plant seeds of discontent around the status quo in his boss’s mind. Second, carefully break new ideas or changes down into smaller, more approachable pieces that are each supported with evidence of how similar efforts have been successful elsewhere. Third, help identify who the naysayer admires; their endorsement of your boss’s ideas can help make them more palatable.

Being Mindful is the Key

The six stereotypes used here have undoubtedly been experienced as real by anyone who has spent time in the workplace. And they are real in their consequences, too. The better you understand and anticipate the toll your leader’s leader is taking, the more able you will be to provide valuable support and through that effort become an indispensable follower. By being mindful of the way your leader is led you can adjust your approach to your job in a way that will significantly improve both your relationship with your boss and their performance in theirs.

 

This article was written by Nate Bennett from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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