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