Tag Archives: feedback

Managing your boss

Portrait of Albert Einstein
Portrait of Albert Einstein



Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

Albert Einstein





In the last couple of years, I’ve enjoyed selling things on eBay.

In recent days, however, I’ve been grappling with a fair degree of frustration.  On Tuesday, I booked a courier to collect a parcel on Wednesday.

The courier didn’t come.

On Thursday I was out and left it with my neighbours.  I checked in with them on Thursday evening.

The courier hadn’t come.

Friday?  I was at home in the morning.

The courier didn’t come.

I had a meeting in the afternoon and left the parcel with my neighbours.  (Again.)  I collected the parcel from my neighbours on my way home.  The courier made his first attempt to collect soon after.  “Everybody’s complaining today,” he told me.  I knew I was not alone.

I was all the more frustrated because this has happened a number of times in recent weeks and my attempts to engage the company concerned have generally been met with an apology and a request that I deliver the parcel to them.

Are you working for your worst boss ever?

Working for a difficult boss is a subject that comes up repeatedly.  If you’re working for your worst boss ever, you may already recognise some parallels with my courier experience.

Your boss is the boss, right?  You expect him or her to do the things bosses do.

You expect your boss to clearly define what he or she wants of you.  He doesn’t.

You expect your boss to support you in shaping an agenda for your part of the business and to help you to gain support for important initiatives.  But you can’t get time in your boss’s diary or you face a wall when you put your ideas forward.

You expect your boss to organise herself to be effective.  You expect leadership from your boss.  But the last thing you get from your boss is good, sound leadership.

You expect the boss to provide support and coaching to help you become more effective in your current role or prepare for your next role.  But all you get is criticism when you don’t do things his way.  (And how the hell are you supposed to know what his way is?  He certainly doesn’t tell you.)

Perhaps you try making requests of your boss or giving feedback.  He may agree with your assessment of the situation but nothing changes.  She may take offence at your feedback.

Over time, you feel more and more frustrated.  Perhaps you feel anxious.  Maybe, if your boss is super critical of you, you lose confidence.  Your performance starts to slide.  Or maybe you find yourself increasingly filling the gap.  Others approach you rather than seeking help from your manager.  Or you start to shape the agenda, to do the influencing, to make things happen.

What Ben knew

Recently, I met someone who had made quite an art out of working for difficult bosses.  I was intrigued to learn more.

The first thing he told me intrigued me most of all.

It hadn’t always been that way.

Early in his career, he had set out to change a difficult boss.  He was confident that his perceptions of his manager were correct and felt sure that if he only raised his concerns at more senior levels, something would be done to address the boss’s behaviour.

In a way, he told me, he got lucky.  His boss’s boss was sympathetic to his concerns.  At the same time, she also highlighted the risks of taking on someone who was so powerful within the organisation.  “You can’t change the others,” she told him.  “You can only change yourself.”

Ben (let’s call him Ben) became curious about the possibilities of what he could achieve by focusing on what he could do rather than focussing on how his boss should be different.

In his first experience, for example, he recognised that his manager had a lot of power in the organisation and a strong desire to look good.  Ben learned to make the most of his boss’s powerful position by working with him to develop initiatives that moved the organisation forward.  “Whatever his limitations” he told me, “I always treated him with the utmost respect.  I shared ideas with him and explored the implications with him.  Quite quickly, I realised I had to start small if I wanted to get him on board.  The effect was to create a pathway towards the next small initiative and the next one and the next one.  I gave credit to my boss whenever I could and, quite quickly, he started to take the credit for the way he had encouraged me.  Once this happened, he started to sing my praises around the organisation so that we both looked good.”

I asked him if this kind of strategy had always worked for him.

“No,” he told me.  “There are times when I look at a situation and ask myself what I can achieve by adjusting my own behaviour and what changes I can make.  In one job, I gave feedback to my boss and he acknowledged all the issues I raised with him – and then did nothing at all to address them.  After I’d had this conversation with him several times I thought hard about my next steps and decided that I needed to accept the situation or, if I couldn’t accept the situation, I needed to accept that I couldn’t accept the situation.   At that stage, I knew it was time for me to move on.”

Tolle2Ben had learnt something I still find difficult.  Eckhart Tolle summed it up like this:  “When you complain you make yourself a victim.  Leave the situation, change the situation or accept it.  All else is madness.”

You could also put it this way:  “When you expect your boss to manage you, you make yourself a victim.  You need to start managing your boss.  Accept that your boss is the way s/he is, do what you can to transform your relationship with your boss, or leave your boss.  All else is madness.”

What struck me about Ben was not that he turned a blind eye to the weaknesses and failings of his line managers.  No.  He was curious about his bosses’ strengths and weaknesses.

He did, though, give up the word “should”:  he stopped telling himself that his line manager should be doing all the things that good bosses do.

My experience with my courier was a reminder that, whatever views I might have about my courier and what they should be doing, they were not.

Making your peace with working for the worst boss ever

The courier should have turned up on Wednesday but it didn’t.

I have already tried to attract attention and get the help I needed.

I’ve used the on-line chat facility and talked to people in Mumbai.

I’ve tried tweeting the UK team.

I tried writing to the courier’s Head of Customer Service.


I got no reply.

Because the issues with this courier’s service have been repeated, I spoke to the Citizens Advice Bureau.

And then I looked hard at my courier’s standard Terms and Conditions.

I was surprised to discover that, as far as the courier is concerned, the service starts once their courier has collected the parcel.  (How weird is that?!)  What’s more, they take no responsibility for events beyond their control, including mechanical failure.  (In short, if the courier’s vehicle breaks down, they won’t collect.)

The thing is, I realised that my courier isn’t going to change.

I thought about the reasons I use this particular courier and I knew they still stand.  At their best, this courier provides a good standard of service at a price that suits my customers on eBay.

I decided to add a few words to my listings on eBay – my own Terms and Conditions – to alert my clients to the possibility of delay.

And, having done this, I felt at peace.

If you’re still waiting for your boss to change you’re doing what I do when I get cross when the courier doesn’t come.  Of course it’s logical to expect my courier to come on the day scheduled.  It’s what couriers do.

But all couriers are not equal and neither are all bosses.

Instead, you will be at your most effective – and peaceful – when you take a long hard look at the boss you have and ask yourself, “Where do I go from here?”

Please let me know how you get on.

Maria Miller, the “map” and the “territory”

This posting written for Discuss HR where it was published last week.  I thought you might like to read it, too.

I don’t know about you, but Maria Miller wasn’t prominent in my thinking until the media pounced on her recent apology to the House of Commons.  I listened to her apology on the news and, without any background knowledge to guide my opinion, well… it sounded direct and sincere to me.

Others were not so easily satisfied.  Critics described it as “perfunctory”, “arrogant” and insulting”.  The gloves were off.

On the receiving end of others’ perceptions

If you’ve ever had any kind of feedback from your constituents, you’ll know it can be hard to square your own intentions with the way others see you.  This is true whether you’re a leader looking at a 360 degree feedback report, a senior executive looking at this year’s staff satisfaction survey or client feedback, an HR Director absorbing staff perceptions of your department or even someone who’s taking a pasting from the boss.

At times, for example, you just don’t recognise yourself in others’ descriptions of you.  Far from intending to (fill in the gap), your intentions were quite different from those described.  You thought you were giving clear direction to your team, for example, but they thought you were over-bearing and arrogant, failing to take account of the ideas of team members.  Or maybe you know you’ve implemented a sound response to last year’s client feedback and still there’s no change in this year’s feedback:  clients are so sure your company is taking three days to dispatch orders even though you know you’re only taking two.

It doesn’t help that so much feedback is couched in judgements, as Maria Miller has learnt.  Who gets to decide what constitutes “perfunctory”, “arrogant” and “insulting”?  It’s hard enough to know that others are unhappy with aspects of your performance.  It’s hard enough to know, even, that they have just cause.  Somehow, the use of judgement makes it all the more personal, as if somehow it’s you who are flawed.  Even if your intellect can see the difference between what you actually did and how others view it, you may still struggle emotionally under the full force of others’ feedback.

The map is not the territory

The map is not the territory
The map is not the territory

You may or may not know about the work of Alfred Korzybski, who was a Polish-American philosopher and scientist, born in 1879.  Korzybski made the case that our knowledge of the world is limited both by the human nervous system and by the limitations of language.  He saw dangers in confusing our perceptions of reality with reality itself, a concept which he neatly summarised in the phrase “the map is not the territory”.

I first came across this phrase in 2002 when I took a practitioner course in neuro-linguistic programming (also known as NLP).  Participants in the programme were introduced to this phrase as a useful presupposition and found it truly liberating.  “Oh!  I can stand back and ask myself if I’m confusing my map of the world with reality itself!”  Recognising the difference between their conclusions about colleagues or loved ones and what had actually happened helped people to clear up old misunderstandings, slights and hurts without even having to talk with the people with whom they most struggled.

Of course, recognising that the map is not the territory also freed some people from the weight of others’ perceptions of them and from a compulsion to please.  “Yes, my boss/colleagues/subordinates/parents/sibling (etc.) view me in a negative way but they’re confusing their judgements with reality itself.”  With this in mind, it seemed easier to hear others’ feedback and – at times – to dismiss it.

Over the years, I have seen many men and women in leadership roles grapple with this difference between map and territory when they have been on the receiving end of some kind of feedback.  It can soften the blow of negative feedback, for example, to realise that people’s perceptions of your leadership style may or may not be accurate.  But this is not where the story ends, as Maria M. can surely testify.

The perceptions others have of you (or of your department, or of your latest change management project) may be wholly inaccurate and still, they ARE perceptions.  In this lies both the challenge and the opportunity.  The fact that others’ perceptions are inaccurate does not mean there is no work for you to do.  No.  It simply means that the nature of your work is not to change the way you do what you do but to do something different about the way you communicate with others or even to choose to hang out somewhere new.  I’ve known talented people, for example, who have made great strides in their career after moving.  Why?  Because new colleagues form impressions based on current experiences so that their perceptions are not contaminated by history.

Managing your reputation

Is there somewhere where you need to manage your reputation or that of your department or organisation?  Is this even an idea that you feel comfortable to embrace?

One way to find out is by asking yourself, do I know how people see me (or my department, organisation or other entity)?  And do they see me the way I want them to?  If you don’t know how your key constituents perceive you it’s time to find out.  If you don’t like the way others perceive you, it’s time to get curious – what perceptions do you want others to have?  And what can you do to change others’ perceptions?

First, though, if your name is Maria or if you’ve recently been on the receiving end of more feedback than you can easily handle, you may want to balance taking action to move forward with a good dose of compassion for the position you find yourself in right now.  It is the quality of compassion, as much as the quality of courage, that is going to see you through.