Leaders: Don’t be an asshole

Whether you want it or not, the title of ‘leader’ comes with more than more responsibility and more headaches. It also comes with a lot power – or at the very least, perceived power.

This perception may not come from your peers or from the power that be. It comes from your direct reports. In their world, you’re kind of a big deal. You can hire, fire, write up, praise, assign work – in short, make their lives great or miserable.

And you thought you were just some middle manager. dibboss

Now that you’re drunk with power and omnipotence, listen up.

Don’t be an asshole.

Sometimes it’s tempting to throw all that power around, particularly when you’ve had a bad day or just came out of a meeting where you were made to feel like a powerless employee. Just…don’t.

The thing is, your actions resonate loudly as a leader – and nowhere loudest than with your people.

In case you can’t possibly think of how you’re being an asshole, here are some ways asshole status might be achieved and how to avoid being “that manager.” (And notice, being an asshole doesn’t always mean being belligerent.):

  • Ignore them: Employees like to be noticed.  If you’re in the office, stop by a few times.
  • Yell at them: Seriously. Yelling is what happens when you can’t use your words. And it’s unacceptable.
  • Forget what it’s like to be new at something: Leaders need patience. Everyone was new at something once, so take a breath and coach them to competence.
  • Take credit for their work: That’s downright crappy. They worked hard – they deserve the credit.
  • Give them the blame: Guess what? Their failures are your failures. Do you hold them accountable for their actions? Absolutely! But finger pointing is classic asshole behavior.
  • Wait too long to give feedback: Don’t surprise them with a bad review or corrective action. You owe it to your people to give them a chance to get better.

It really boils down to this – remember that boss you once had that was a total asshole?

Don’t be that boss.

It’s as simple as that.

The key to being a good manager is keeping the people who hate you away from those who are still undecided.

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!

McMurphy had it easy: When your boss is Nurse Ratched

If you read this post’s title and thought, “I totally get it”, then you have my heartfelt sympathy.  You are really dealing with something.

nurse_iconFor those of you wondering what the heck I’m talking about, a little background – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is a terrific film (from the book which was made into a play) in which the protagonist McMurphy (a tour de force by Jack Nicholson) feigns insanity to avoid jail and comes face-to-face with Nurse Ratched (perfectly played by Louise Fletcher) – the no nonsense, no fun, rigidly exact head of the ward who relies on boredom and humiliation to rule with an iron fist.  She hides behind rules, reason, and a terrifying belief that she’s helping people even when she is doing the exact opposite.  McMurphy’s impassioned attempts to bring life into the ward lead to an escalating battle of wills…one that Nurse Ratched wins by (SPOILER ALERT) sending McMurphy “upstairs” for a lobotomy.

Now, hopefully you are NOT in a McMurphy vs Ratched battle of wills with your boss.  That would be bad (and you don’t want Chief to have to smother you before escaping…oh – SPOILER ALERT).  But there may be days when you feel like your boss is trying to drive you insane, or at the very least, like you’ve had a lobotomy.   Below are some tips on how to handle scenarios that make you feel like you’ve gone crazy:

The Situation: The Boss is a stickler for the rules.

No, Mr. McMurphy. When the meeting was adjourned, the vote was 9 to 9. 

In the movie, McMurphy tries to convince Nurse Ratched that they should get to watch the World Series on TV and they put it to a vote.  Long story short, the vote is 9 to 9 and McMurphy works desperately to get the Chief to vote.  Ratched adjourns the vote moments before the Chief raises his hand.  After all, rules are rules.  There are a lot of bosses out there who would applaud this stance, stubbornly seeing the world in black and white, refusing to admit there might be gray.

Why it sucks: Because it ignores the human element. Listen, I am a fan of having a process and some rules.  Consistency is an important part of scalability and, dare I say, fairness.  But you’ve got to be able to make a decision that makes SENSE.  It’s like zero tolerance policies – when you adopt an all or nothing approach, you end up suspending a 5 year old for making explosion sound effects because you’re afraid he might be a terrorist.

What do you do? The first thing you need to do is realize that your boss is motivate by rules and regulations.  Rah-rah moments like getting the previously-unresponsive Chief to raise his hand will not inspire your boss to change his/her ways.  Discuss the policy/rule with your boss, and understand why he/she is sticking to it.  Then find a way to base your argument for a decision that meets the parameters your boss outlines.

The Situation: The Boss doesn’t like to rock the boat.

The best thing we can do is go on with our daily routine.

Nurse Ratched approaches her job with the mantra that boredom = routine = sanity.  Steady as she goes.  Go about your business.  This too shall pass.  Any way you say it, you’re dealing with a Boss who wants to keep his head down and his people quiet.

Why this sucks: Because variety is the spice of life!  Innovation comes from friction – we don’t like something, so we change it.  Neuroscience tells us that a great way to keep the brain young is to keep learning new things.  And who doesn’t want a young brain? A boss who doesn’t encourage experimentation and dialogue will soon have a team of clock-watching zombies, shuffling about the office, waiting for their time to go home.  I’ve been in companies where people confuse stability with success. It keeps you from realizing your full potential as an employee, and that can make you bitter over time.

What do you do? If your boss is truly as risk- or change-averse as Nurse Ratched, you may be better off finding a champion outside of the team.  A mentor who can help you develop your ideas or point you towards some even better ones may help keep you challenged, even if your boss can’t.  Keep up on the latest and greatest ideas in your industry.  Read…a LOT.  Do anything you can to break your own routines.

The Situation: The Boss surrounds herself with group think, and is protected because of it.

Year by year she accumulates her ideal staff: doctors, all ages and types, come and rise up in front of her with ideas of their own about the way a ward should be run, some with backbone enough to stand behind their ideas, and she fixes these doctors with dry-ice eyes day in, day out, until they retreat with unnatural chills.

That pretty much sums it up.

Why this sucks: Because not only does the same bad thinking get perpetuated at the top, but anyone who tries to oppose this thinking gets shot down…to the point that people stop trying to change a terrible culture.  Apathy is one of the most depressing cultures, in my opinion.  Give me enthusiastic yes-men over people who don’t care (if I had to choose…but I wouldn’t want to choose).

What do you do? Keep trying.  McMurphy tried to rally his fellow ward-mates by playing poker, watching baseball – reminding them what it was like to be a human being.  Do the same with your coworkers.  Encourage their ideas, lift their spirits, remind everyone why they do what they do.  Not every boss lasts forever.  Your attempts to keep the dream alive will help your team, and it will give you something to fight for, too.

The Last Resort

No, I’m not talking about the scene where McMurphy attacks Nurse Ratched. Sheesh, people.  This is a leadership blog, for goodness’ sake!

The reality is that some bosses cannot be outlasted.  After all, Nurse Ratched, though bowed, was not broken.  At some point, despite all your efforts, you find that you can’t fight anymore – the rest of the team moves on, you lose your mentor, you notice you’re not the chipper person you used to be.  You may need to simply move on and live to fight another day.  And as long as you gave it your best, you can leave with your head held high.

‘But I tried though,’ he says. ‘Goddammit, I sure as hell did that much, now, didn’t I?’

Do you have a survival story?  I want to hear about it!  Leave a comment below!!!