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Managing “UP” the Organization or Fixing a Bad Boss

Do you have one of those hard-to-work-for bad bosses? OK, that’s too kind. Is your boss a jerk? Do you sometimes want to pull your hair out? Or even throw things after a talk with Mr./Mrs. Wonderful?

bad boss

Bad bosses almost always lack emotional intelligence. They play favorites, gossip, and have private agendas not always in the best interest of the team. They can’t handle the fact that someone else on the team could be as smart/smarter and they do not like to be challenged.

Bosses who exhibit bad people skills or who fail at problem-solving do not deserve the title of “leader”. They might be the owner, founder, or boss, but Leader? No way.

If you have the misfortune of working for one of these people, you have a lot of work to do. Clients often ask me about managing this situation. Most call it “managing up” the organization. That’s an interesting concept, easier said than done. Here’s why.

You can’t make them change

A senior executive or a company owner who has a less than favorable management style is not likely to want to change. That a ‘Leopard can’t change its spots’ holds true for most of us in one respect or another. The Idiom from the Old Testament speaks to the fact that certain basic traits of a person can never change, just like the spots on a Leopard.

Fooling yourself into thinking you have an opportunity to change the basic traits of a bad boss could be a waste of valuable time. When your boss performs within a narrow band of acceptable behavior, but has frequent forays into unacceptable territory, thereby making the situation almost unbearable, you have some choices you need to consider.

Bad Bosses usually fail in several ways

Here are the most common ways I see bad bosses failing to be effective.

  • They create a low or no trust environment. Bad bosses have ways of killing the trust factor. They violate trust by telling others something you told them in confidence. Or they twist information shared in trust. And they often betray the trust by promising to one thing and then doing something else.
  • They strip empowerment. Any hopes of having a confident, empowered work team can be destroyed by a bad boss. Often these bad guys delegate a task, then immediately begin micromanaging the mission, thus gutting the sense of empowerment from the person given the assignment.
  • They have behaviors that violate moral standards. Bad bosses tend to be the ones caught abusing employees with emotional or even physical advances. I firmly believe that if you could uncover all the stories about the people being accused in the “me too” movement, you would find their overall behavior in the workplace is pretty poor; definitely not demonstrated leadership.
  • They violate ethical, and sometimes legal standards. Cutting corners to win deals or make a profit is often associated with poor management. Employees with higher ethical standards who find themselves working for bad bosses must make tough choices.

How do you deal with a Bad Boss?

When I am asked the question about managing up, I share these things.

  1. You must choose to be the bigger person. What do I mean? You don’t have to confront the bad boss at every turn, but rather let whatever blowup comes from an encounter with them stay isolated. You cannot take your frustration down to your own team. Avoid the temptation to broadcast the idiocy of your boss’s behavior to your team. Instead, filter the message. If the boss gave you a task for your team, just deliver the particulars of the task. Do not get into the details of how bad it was to deal with the boss.
  2. Be the Leader among your peers. The other direct reports who suffer at the hands of your boss need encouragement. You can gather with them offline to discuss the frustrations about the boss, but at the end of it all, you should be the one to say “Ok folks, this stays right here. Now let’s go do our jobs.”
  3. Play within the boundaries. Your company should have its own set of policies and procedures for dealing with most employment situations. If the company is small though, and the founder is the bad boss, you might not have options per the policy. The point here is that you need to be without your own blemish in dealing with the situation. You should not violate some standard to create an opportunity to get back at the boss.
  4. Lastly, and this one always gets people, you need to consider the option to leave. If it becomes crystal clear that the boss is perpetually bad, you may have no choice but to resign. Your reputation is at stake. In larger companies, you might ask for a reassignment. The options are limited for smaller companies.

The way out

By now you can tell I don’t believe in “managing up” an organization. It just doesn’t work.  At least in my 30+ years in the workforce, I’ve never seen it accomplished. Bad bosses are part of our work life. If you’ve never had one, just wait. More importantly, if you stayed with this message this far, and you might be one of the bad bosses, take a moment to decide where you want to go with your responsibilities. Find an outside voice to review your style and approach, Get an independent opinion about your work. Maybe you have some blind spots that can be fixed.

Executive coaching can identify the areas where bad boss behaviors exist. With the right coaching, bad bosses can be rehabilitated, and, in some cases, even cured.

Images courtesy: Copyright: andreypopov / 123RF Stock Photo

Originally posted on DougThorpe.com

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Leaders: Are You a 2023 Contender or a Pretender?

If your desire is to be a better manager at work, at home, or in the community, you may want to develop some actual leadership skills.

However, if you are already following certain leadership principles, there is always room for lifting the lid to expand your reach and influence.

After many years of working with clients of all kinds, I see one recurring theme, time and again. The biggest difference between managers who are pretenders versus leaders who are contenders is a small six-inch piece of real estate; the distance between your ears.

Yes, I am talking about the space inside your head. The things you allow to happen in your thought life will drive the rate of success. You can be a pretender or you can be a contender. The difference is isolated in this really small space.

In the following diagram, you can see the natural progression of thought, action, reaction, and behavior that is derived from our beliefs, expectations, and experiences. It’s all centered in the mind.

BELIEFS

Beliefs are your values, judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and attitudes. When you wake up each day, you have a whole set of these beliefs waiting ready in your head. The sum total of all these makes up your outlook for the day, often before you even begin. The collection of these beliefs set the stage for the way each day might unfold.

If a string of circumstances has tainted your set of beliefs, you will look at new opportunities through a jaded lens. On the other hand, if you have achieved a certain success, you may be more inclined to view new opportunities with a more optimistic mindset.

BEHAVIORS

Your beliefs drive your behaviors. Your “style” openness (or not), your habits, skills, practices, and actions stem from the beliefs you carry.

If you prefer mustard over mayonnaise, you are expressing an eating behavior based on some belief you established a long time ago. And so it goes with many of your daily choices, clothes, cars, hobbies, reading, entertainment, music, etc.

RELATIONSHIPS

Even the people you may choose to call friends will be governed by your beliefs turned into behavior. The kind of tribe you may join at work or in the community will be influenced by your behaviors.

If you align with a certain religious belief system, that will dictate the house of worship you choose to attend. Political affiliations, other social settings, and even workplace choices will be heavily swayed by the relationships you think you want to make; all having root in your mind’s eye.

RESULTS

Finally, the results will reflect the collection of beliefs, behaviors, and relationships. The direct circles of activity you choose will have a specific set of outcomes. These results (outcomes, impact, improvements, and “performance”) will all serve to reinforce your belief system.

When the results align with your original beliefs you say “see, I told you so.” You feel you knew it all along.

On the other hand, if an outcome somehow runs counter to what you expected (as many things will do), you may be inclined to fall deeper into your beliefs saying things like “I will never do THAT again”, or “I wish I had followed my gut.”

The Remedy

The successful leader will learn how to control that delicate real estate between the ears. Negative thoughts will be replaced by ones that provide a more meaningful value. The cycle of belief, behavior, relationship, and result will become a momentum-generating machine for positive action and success.

Whenever limiting thoughts creep in or pop up, the prudent, experienced leader will properly address the thought and prevent it from taking root to undermine the rest of the experience.

Whenever in doubt, the seasoned, learning leader will seek advice from trusted counselors and coaches or mentors and friends, to better evaluate the thought. If the thought has merit, then it can be addressed with a balanced, healthy view, never interrupting forward progress.

When you handle the root belief system, you set the stage for a more positive outcome. More importantly, you set the process by which you can grow, profit, and prosper in all areas of your life.

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Leaders: There’s a New Way to Understand Change

Author’s NOTE: I wrote the first version of this article in 2018 – a full 2 years BEFORE the whole world locked down and faced the COVID-19 pandemic. Business has not been the same since.

At a recent luncheon, I was involved in a discussion that I find becoming more common. The topic was this: Change Management is old news. The argument says the way we once understood change management has been overcome by several new and more complex drivers in business.

New leadership

Here are some of the reasons old-style change management doesn’t work anymore.

First, we are now into Phase Three of technology advancements. Phase One was the development of the Internet; building the superhighway for information exchange. Phase Two was the emergence of power users who understood the opportunities from phase one and launched very disruptive platforms to overhaul the way we operate and live (think Apply, Amazon, Facebook, Google). Phase Three, our current phase, includes IOT (the Internet of Things), nanotechnologies, and other rapid response initiatives in energy, life sciences, and medicine.

The pace at which Phase Three operates has the potential for changing in an instant. Long, drawn out change management plans can’t sustain the rapid change happening required by Phase Three.

Another factor is the whipsaw effect most business leaders find themselves these days. Conflicting interests create massive paradoxes that keep managers and leaders on their heels. These are examples of polar opposites that now exist in businesses of all sizes, and the list goes on.

Be more hands-on with business, but less hands-on with people. Executives stated a need to find new ways to be inclusive and to help others develop. Meanwhile, they’re now more conscious of keeping their eye on the day-to-day business in a way that’s more encompassing.

Do more with less. Drive increased productivity while reducing resources and controlling costs.

Empower the work team but manage risk. Leaders must take chances while safeguarding the business. In a highly
unpredictable market, this balancing act is more difficult than ever before.

Seel diverse points of view but drive unified action. A leader must encourage people to share ideas while inspiring them
to embrace the ultimate decision.

Next, conventional leadership approaches involving annual reviews, merit awards, and other older compensation models don’t support the rapid change cycles. People can work multiple, very diverse assignments within a one year review period. Conventional tools like strategic planning and budgeting have time horizons that look like glacier movement when compared to the fast pace of some current change.

Lastly, old mindsets about human behavior in the face of change are becoming less effective for managing and leading work teams. Whether you blame it on the Millennial effect or some other convenient excuse for poor leadership, teams today don’t thrive under old ways of managing.

New Model

To better accommodate the rapid change in the business world today, you must adopt a different view. I have become an evangelist for one that makes much more sense.

core-agility-edge

I call it ACE for Agility, Core, and Edge. Let’s start with the Core.

CORE

The Core is who we are and what we know/believe. It’s the stuff we’re “made of”. Core comes from the composite experiences we have had in life. Your core includes values, beliefs, experience, biases, prejudices (yes we all have them). It also includes the knowledge you have accumulated whether by teaching, training or practical experience.

The Core is not limited to values and beliefs but has much to do with that. Understanding your own core can help define purpose. Core helps to understand the power of harnessing your mind’s attention and your hearts affection. When these two critical elements are running in harmony, you can be an unstoppable force.

Core creates our comfort zones. When you feel you are operating in a comfort zone, you are deep in your core.

EDGE

As you face new challenges or get pushed into unfamiliar circumstances, you are walking on the Edge. The edge is where everything we don’t know lives. New ideas, new technology, new programs, business growth initiatives, all are edge things.

Standing on the edge takes us far away from our core and leaves us uncomfortable. Most of us don’t like the edge. We don’t like it on the edge. For many of us, we don’t even like stepping too far away from our core.

Yet changes happening around us demand that we visit the edge. All the “new” things in your world are likely Edge items, not core ones.

AGILITY

Agility is the special ability to move from core to edge and back again without losing all sense of balance or security. Great leaders develop their agility more than even their core. Having agility as a leader gives you the strength to be comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. The agiler you might be as a leader, the more you are known as the stabilizing force.

Agility…

  • Requires being fully aware “in the moment” to concentrate intensely on the needs of the situation
  • Allows for behavioral transitions between proven practices and new approaches
  • Is employed in a proactive and intentional way to increase the effectiveness

Have you ever worked for someone who seemed to never get rattled despite some very stressful situations? That person had agility. They could go out to the edge (the stress) and not lose sight of their core. They knew their core was a strength and an ever-present reservoir of wisdom and experience. They knew that going to the edge did not require abandoning the core.

Lee Hecht Harrison conducted a survey of 130 executive level leaders (CEO, COO, CFO or Presidents) from over 92 organizations. FIndings show that the most successful leaders are adept at using a wide range of behaviors strategically matched to produce targeted impact.

Here are some of their top line findings:

  1. In response to dealing with paradoxes and contradictory environments, leaders need to make frequent choices about the way in which they lead. They must draw upon a broad range of behaviors to navigate and lead most effectively.
  2. In order to increase their agility, leaders cannot rely solely on their strengths and preferences. They must learn and practice new behaviors.
  3. Behavior shifts cannot be prescribed; rather, personal capability must be developed to select the right approach “in-the-moment.” This requires the development of self-reflection, which builds the awareness to effectively scan the situation, select the most results-orientated focus, shift to the required behavior and learn from the experience.

The Best Type of Change

Back to the argument about change management. The best change you can pursue is learning to develop your agility. For the moment, your core is finite. It is only just so big.

The edge is arguably infinite. There are moments of all types every day that become edge events in our lives. Do you disagree with infinite? Think of the edge as a circle around your core. Mathematicians tell us there is an infinite number of points along the outer edge of a circle.

The best change you can pursue is learning how to grow your agility. Why? Because better agility gets you out to the edge faster with a more stable ability to respond. Then once the edge is handled, you revert back to the core. This push and pull build a resilience.

Steps for Increasing Personal Agility

Because self-awareness is the first step, you need to learn to “see” when agility is being used. The person may be aware or unaware that they are behaving with agility. What you will notice is that the person is using a combination of approaches in dealing with a group and has success in getting a broad range participation that leads to focused, productive action. They are curious about
what others have to say and respectful of diverse views, bringing a level of creativity and innovation to addressing complex situations.

Scan

  • Find a leader who demonstrates the ability to select the right behaviors for a range of different situations. Notice when they match their approach to the situation. Ask them to share how they make this determination. Have a discussion about how you both become aware of matching your behavior to the situation.
  • Identify what “clues” you use to determine whether to go for “core” or “edge.”
  • Practice identifying when you are in “core” and “edge” modes. Become aware of how you choose which approach to apply.

Focus

  • Practice becoming aware of yourself when you are distracted and how you can regain focus.
  • Practice concentrating your attention, identify a work or point of attention that you can use to refocus your actions. Use it when you notice yourself getting off track.
  • Identify the environment that gives you the highest level of performance. Notice the results you get when you are in this environment.

Shift

  • Identify how you “know” when it is time to shift and move on. How do you determine your point of diminishing return for an approach? Notice when you have stayed in one mode for too long.
  • Practice using this “signal” to make change earlier.
  • Notice what happens when you release your focus and move
    your attention.

There is an added benefit. Once you more effectively move back and forth between core and edge, you actually grow your core. Your experiences out on the edge become your new truth. The new impact of having completed an edge task adds to your core.

I know I’ll get letters from my change management friends. These I welcome because then we’ll all get to share ideas about new edges and where our core sits. Let’s ACE it!

Author’s Note: This ACE model is shared by permission of Lee Hecht Harrison, a global leader in talent development. It has been my privilege to work with their team across the U.S. coaching senior executives at major corporations.

To see more about this framework, click here.

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What Are You Waiting For?

There comes a time in life when you’ve done all the thinking, study, analysis, and planning you can do. You reach a decision point. Then it happens. You freeze. You cannot go forward. You’re stuck.

The question is then, what are you waiting for? What is it that holds you back, makes you balk? How can you make the call?

Leadership is about being able to avoid waiting. Making decisions is the big “so what” about being a leader. As the leader, your team is waiting for you to decide. Which way are we going, if at all? When? How?

While your ability to decide can make the difference, the timing of the decision is just as important.

First a story

I’ve often told the story of my banking experience during the implementation of ATM machines. The machines were new, unproven technology. Analysts agreed this was the next big thing. My bank had not yet entered the fight. The competition was running fast to adopt the technology.

We held a big executive summit with our senior leadership team. Case studies were prepared and presented. Our chairman and CEO, Ben Love, absorbed all of the information as only he could do. Then in the blink of an eye, he said “No, we’re going to wait this out. Let’s let the other guys get the arrows in their back.”

His analogy of course meant that pioneers were the ones who suffered the most when exploring new territory. We waited for a period, something like 18–24 months. Then we entered the market.

Not only did we avoid the high cost of early adoption failures (and there were many), but we dominated the space. We helped form the Pulse network which was the early version of the utility service that allowed all the machines to talk to each other and exchange transaction data. There was a cost to be on the network, a fee we profited from for quite some time.

In this case, Ben’s waiting was prudent, wise, and ultimately very profitable. However, too often the wait is a fail all its own.

The flip side

In 2000, Reed Hastings, the founder of a fledgling company called Netflix, flew to Dallas to propose a partnership to Blockbuster CEO John Antioco and his team. The idea was that Netflix would run Blockbuster’s brand online and Antioco’s firm would promote Netflix in its stores. Hastings got laughed out of the room.

We all know what happened next. Blockbuster went bankrupt in 2010 and Netflix is now a $28 billion-dollar company, about ten times what Blockbuster was worth. Today, Hastings is widely hailed as a genius, and Antioco is considered a fool. Yet that is far too unfair an explanation.

Antioco was, in fact, a very competent executive — many considered him a retail genius — with a long history of success. Yet for all his operational acumen, he failed to see that market forces were moving in a new direction.

Let’s make it personal

Waiting

Yes, there are hundreds if not thousands of business case studies where CEOs failed to make the right call. But this issue is more personal.

Each of us with any leadership duty at all, whether at work, at home, or in the community, face the challenge to make decisions on behalf of our tribe.

When we freeze in place, we jeopardize everything we may have been working on. Here are three main reasons we wait before making the decision. And a little something to do about each one.

Fear

Fear is the obvious and easy answer to why we wait. When faced with an unknown about the future we have fear. As the reality settles in that our decision may have big consequences, fear rises up.

Fear can be overcome by determination. When I sense fear about making a decision, I look first at those who rely on me. I ask the question, will they be better off moving forward or staying stuck where we are.

If the consequences of my decision will not directly harm my tribe, I can move ahead with more determination.

Confidence

Confidence, or lack thereof, is a distant relative of fear. Building confidence as a leader is one of the most common expressions of concern I hear from my coaching clients. Lack of confidence causes us to wait.

There is not a good executive out there who hasn’t felt a little doubt from time to time, tugging at their confidence. Prior success only goes so far in helping to make new decisions with confidence. Yet building momentum as a leader can do more for confidence than anything else I know.

High achievers seldom celebrate wins in the day. Beating a deadline, making a delivery, and executing a difficult task, are all examples of wins you can and should be celebrating in your own way. I’m not talking about becoming arrogant. Rather I am talking about realizing the momentum that might be building on your team.

Celebrate that. Let it help build your confidence as a leader.

Procrastination

Yes, just old-fashioned procrastination can cause us to wait. Ironically, people with tendencies toward perfectionism are the biggest procrastinators I know.

The logic goes like this. I need this to be perfect, so I’ll wait for the right time, resources, or events to align so that the outcome will be perfect.

Perfect is the enemy of good. ~Voltaire

You don’t have to be perfect to be a winner. Success comes from action. Feel the urge to wait because of trying to be perfect? Decide first what good can look like. Then do it.

Question: What are you waiting for?