September 26, 2019

Your Manager Cannot Suck

The manager relationship must work.  If it doesn’t, there’s usually only one solution unfortunately …

I’ve been meeting with a ton of professionals since Labor Day.  As predicted a few weeks ago, there’s definitely an intensity in the air as summer comes to a close and the end of the calendar year quickly approaches.

One of the things that continues to pop in conversations is the importance of the direct manager – the person responsible for performance reviews, feedback, support, etc.  Lots of folks are dealing with some pretty challenging relationships.  Time-and-time again, I’ve come back to my mantra when it comes to the partnership between you and your boss:

Your manager cannot suck.  Period.

Unfortunately, many managers do suck.  Organizations across industries continue to implement the same old-school approach: (1) Organizations have good individual contributors (2) Organizations don’t know what to do with those strong contributors (3) Organizations promote those performers to Managers.

Often lacking? Assessment, training, coaching, and community (beyond the typical HR-sponsored stuff).  Some companies are doing better than others, but I’m definitely seeing a scary theme around the softer side of management – it’s non-existent (or super limited).

So, what if you’re dealing with a difficult manager, like so many of my recent clients?

  • Know that it’s probably not you.  Especially if you’ve been a performer and all of a sudden you’re “not cutting it,” something else is happening.  Could be a lack of role understanding by the manager, could be a personality conflict, could be internal politics.  But bottom line, most people don’t go from doing really well to crashing in a limited period of time.  It’s not you.
  • Get super clear on how you’re measuring you’re work/performance.  Getting tactical with measurement can give you control over a difficult situation and provide a clear (working) path forward.  Now, sometimes this conversation is difficult (especially if the manager doesn’t know what you do) but try to get on the same page.  This could take time, so be prepared to iterate on your approach/documentation.
  • Show-Up.  When I worked with a challenging boss, the last thing I wanted to do was stick around the office all day.  But I learned that’s not a good approach.  You actually want to be available, raise your hand/participate, give feedback, and generally be a good sport.  Don’t be like me and shut down – this only leads to more negativity.
  • Up the Balance.  You’ve heard it from me before … up the gym, think about meditation, eat healthy food, and limit the booze.  A clear head and a strong body can only help you through this difficult time.
  • Get Help.  The manager relationship is central to the Professional Story framework that I built for Engaged Pursuit.  Getting clear on what YOU want out of a boss is absolutely crucial and completely necessary.  Remember, you shouldn’t have to “put-up” with any boss – this relationship must work.  Need some help?  Contact me through my website.
  • Get Out.  Give it a good college try, but know that in the vast majority of situations, you’re probably going to have to find something new.   I said it.  I know this is really hard to hear (“Why do I need to change???”) but it’s true.  I’ve learned it’s almost impossible to recover (and excel) when working with a challenging manager.  I think it’s better to just cut your losses and move on – you’ll thank me after!

So, how are things with your manager?  Feel like you’re getting the support, feedback, attention, and clarity you deserve?  Or is your manager struggling to understand your work, constantly stressed, and doesn’t make time to help you develop?

Remember, your manager cannot suck.

Here’s to your Engaged Pursuit!

Tom Perry's Signature

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