I’m a peacock!!! (what to do when your boss won’t let you flap your wings and fly)

Development.  Growth.  Character building.  Resume expansion.  Skillz.

As employees, we are looking for more than a paycheck when we come to work.  We  hope the job is some sort of means to an end, whether it’s fulfilling our lifelong dream of being a CEO, or simply a chance to “pay our dues” or “learn something new” on the way to that mythical “perfect” job out there.

So when our manager keeps us from growing on the job, it gets us miffed.  Some might even say snippy. Or, in extreme cases, terribly vexed.

There’s data that support the general annoyance felt by employees whose growth has been stymied.  Engagement studies continue to indicate that career development is a key engagement factor for most employees.  In fact, less than half of all employees believe they have career opportunities with their current employer.  Interestingly enough, another key engagement factor is trust in leadership…so if you have a manager who lied about the development opportunities your position offers, you’re probably not terribly engaged at the moment.   And now we’re backed to being terribly vexed.

The good news is that you don’t need 100% buy-in from your manager in order to grow.  I happen to subscribe to the belief that employees should own their own development, and as such, it is up to us to find ways to demand a chance to flap our wings and fly.  (It’s a reference to The Other Guys.  You’re welcome.)

See?  He's not flying.  And he's sad.
See? He’s not flying. And he’s sad.

Without further ado, here are some suggestions on how you can “encourage” an uncooperative boss into helping you grow and develop:

  • Be specific about your requests: This is slightly more than just “ask for it” (which is still good advice, but may not work with this type of boss).  You need to know what it is you want to accomplish with your development.  If you say to me, “I want to develop.  Develop me.”, I wouldn’t want to help you either.  It’s too vague!  Get some specificity.  If you are looking for more budgeting experience, ask your boss if you can sit in on a financial review meeting.  If you want eventually to be a manager, volunteer to lead a few projects.  Just mapping out some specific development goals for yourself will help move you in the right direction.
  • Help your coworkers on projects outside of your skill set: This is an awesome way to grow…and to get brownie points for “teamwork”.  Yes, you’ll have to figure out the best way to prioritize your time so you still get your work done if your boss isn’t fully on board, but you’ll be amazed at how much you can learn from your teammates.  Each of us brings unique skills and experience to the table, and there is no cost to learning from each other.
  • Seek out a mentor in another department: Let’s face it – sometimes you take a job that isn’t the greatest because of the opportunity to work for a certain company.  But now you’re stuck in that department because your boss doesn’t care about your career development.  Unless you are physically chained to the desk, you can move about the office, building relationships in different departments and asking for advice and guidance from others.  (If you ARE physically chained to a desk, you may want to call HR.)  Seek out the people who already are what you want to be when you grow up and learn from them.
  • Volunteer with a local industry-specialized membership chapter: An excellent way to build your network within your industry is to belong to and volunteer with a local chapter of that industry’s organization (e.g., SHRM).  This will allow you to stay current in the latest and greatest within your chosen profession, you’ll meet lots of amazing people, make some great friends, and build your brand.  And you get to brag about the fact you volunteered.
  • Read: And that means more than just browsing the headlines on Yahoo! or glancing at your Twitter feed.  Pick a topic you’re interested in, that’s relevant to your development goals, and hunt down some great books…and commit to reading them!  (Here’s a list to get you started.)  I LOVE to read, so this one seems like a no brainer to me…but I know some folks would rather gouge their eyes out then sit still and read a book.  I get that.  So try an audio book (you can get them from libraries, iTunes, whatever).  If they make a movie from it, watch that (worked for Freakonomics).  Subscribe to some industry magazines.  Just find a way to stay up to date in a meaningful way that makes you think.

This is just a short list of things you can do to keep you growing and learning even if your boss seems determined to keep you stagnant.   Hopefully you see that it doesn’t take much to overcome the perceived obstacle of an uncooperative manager – each of us makes a choice about our own engagement.  Don’t settle for whining about your lack of growth – flap your own damn wings and fly!

Have a suggestion on how to harness your inner peacock?  Share in the comments!

It’s good to be the king…except when it isn’t

You’ve heard them, those fateful words mumbled by frustrated employees under their breath when they’re angry. You, in fact, may have mumbled the words yourself at one time or another.

“I don’t know why the boss looks so stressed. She’s got it made.” Or…

“He has no idea what he’s doing.” Or the ever-popular…

“Well, when I’m in charge, that would NEVER happen.”

Right. Because being the boss is the easiest job in the world. That’s why everyone is so darn good at it. (Yes. That was sarcasm, for those of you scoring at home.)

Listen, I get why so many people get mad at their boss. There are some really bad ones out there. And there are some good people out there just trying to do their best in a crappy situation. Sometimes it really does suck to be in charge. Here are some reasons why The Man deserves a little slack now and then:

  • It’s lonely at the top: Yeah, when you’re promoted you get an office (usually) and a parking space (occasionally). But think about what you lose – you are no longer “one of the gang”. You have to be very careful about what you say and to whom you say it, particularly the higher up you go in the company. This can be a pretty jarring shift. And you feel like you’re cut off just when you need someone to talk to the most.
  • Bosses have to fire people: Only the most evil, psychopathic bosses are unaffected by firing people. Even when it’s absolutely the right thing to do and it’s best for the company (and even the employee), firing people is awful. Yes, you can get through it professionally and with empathy, but it still impacts you before and after the fact.f_bomb
  • There’s a LOT more accountability: Back in the day, when you were a hot shot individual contributor, you could get away with only being responsible for your own stuff and getting out of the way when others failed. Well, guess what – as the boss you don’t get to do that any more. Now, you’re responsible for the results of the TEAM…and YOUR boss is going to hold you accountable for their actions. This can lead to a lot of sleepless nights and uncomfortable staff meetings if you’re not on the ball and managing your people appropriately.
  • Other People’s Problems (drama): Remember how sometimes you would just walk into your boss’s office and “vent” – dumping your problems on his/her shoulders? Yeah…now people try to dump their problems on you. And even if you have amazing deflecting skills, you’ll still have to listen to their issues because there may be an obstacle buried in that rant you need to help remove so your employee can be successful. And you know how sometimes two team members get into a turf war over something as stupid as who gets the good whiteboard markers? Before you were the boss, you were allowed to walk away…even laugh at it. Now, you’ve got to deal with it because it’s impacting the overall performance of your team and you are responsible for your team’s results. Fun, huh? (You can still laugh at it, though. Just do it out of earshot.)
  • People expect you know know EVERYTHING that’s going on..and share it: The truth is, many bosses are just as much in the dark about the whys and whats as most employees. Butin a lot of cases, they DO know what’s going on but can’t share the information because it’s confidential. Employees don’t care. They want info and they want it now! As a boss, you have to be able to balance the challenges of transparency and confidentiality. And that can be very tiring, especially if you’ve forgotten to check with your boss about what the message should be.

Don’t let this list scare you – there are are lot of cool thing about being a boss. You get to see people reach their full potential; you have more opportunities to impact what is going on in the workplace; you are personally challenged; etc. And yes, you often get a kick ass office. But for every high, there is a low. For every perk, there is a challenge. Just try and remember that your boss is a human being and even he/she has crappy days. Most bosses are just doing the best they can.

What are some challenges you’ve faced as a boss that you wish your employees understood better? Share in the comments!

Make it Work (even when you don’t want to)

Let’s get this out of the way – I watch Project Runway. And I love Tim Gunn. So there.

On Project Runway this week, it was a team challenge (and an unconventional one to boot!). I always find these fascinating because even though the creative process seems to be a very personal thing, the reality of the fashion industry is that you MUST work with teams if you want to be successful.

I get that, because I am happiest working on my own. My idea of happy group work is we meet to talk about what has to be done, everyone knows their part, and then we go away and do our parts on our own, and then we come back together and it all magically works! The reality is that this NEVER works…you actually have to work with people on stuff all at the same time. Drat.

Since we have to find ways to make teams work (especially when we don’t get to pick the team), I submit the following lessons from Project Runway. Oh, and it’s more fun if you read them in Tim Gunn’s voice. [Caution – SPOILERS AHEAD]

  • Chemistry matters: Helen and Kate rocked the challenge and Helen won because they realized that they had more in common than they thought. And this is after Helen started the season believing Kate was the biggest bitch in the world. Figure out a way to get to know your team on a human level so you can interact in a healthy way.tim_gunn
  • If you have an issue with a person, talk to THAT person…not everyone else: Miranda and Timothy (our precious little unicorn) were a TRAIN WRECK of a team. They had some personal history that colored every interaction. And then, when Miranda struggled to work with Timothy’s free spirit, she took her whining to the workroom, not Timothy. This did not end well. If you are having issues working with someone, have a conversation about it WITH THAT PERSON. You’ve heard of the “drama triangle“? Don’t make one.
  • Admit when you’ve been a jerk: To Miranda’s credit, she did pull herself together and admitted to Timothy that she handled the situation incorrectly and that she should have talked to him. This lesson was also learned in an earlier season when Mondo apologized to Michael C. for being a dick. It’s amazing how far that simple apology can go towards creating innovation and results. If you’ve been a jerk – apologize and move on. And if someone apologizes to you, accept it and move on. Don’t be Timothy, who threw Miranda under the bus on the runway, thus making him look like a weenie.
  • Play up each others’ strengths: The top looks (Helen/Kate, Dom/Alexandria) worked because the team knew what each others’ strengths were and used them. Kate’s contruction + Helen’s edginess = awesome. Alexandria’s design + Dom’s create eye = cool. Regardless of who is on your team, you need to find out what they can contribute. It makes for a more functional team, builds buy-in, and can lead to some amazing results!
  • Check the ego at the door: Team work means team results – not “I was awesome but the team sucked, but it doesn’t matter because I’m going to point out why I’m so awesome.” Do what you need to do to make sure the team gets results. Sandro is pretty much crazy, and Sue has great ideas in her own designs. But Sandro’s single-mindedness, and a decision to make a sewing-reliant design, meant that Sue’s desire to put up obstacles had to be put aside in order to make sure the team had something to present. I guarantee she wouldn’t do that every time, but she realized that if she kept fighting with Sandro, they’d never complete their look. Sometimes you have to take one for the team.

What team situations have you been in where you had a “Make it Work” moment? Share in the comments!!