In my last post, I talked about what you need to do to manage your boss, for the benefit of your career. What I also need to share is what NOT to do. I have watched with frustration, time and again, as people destroy their careers for simple lack of self-awareness
You don’t know what you don’t know.
I am going to share some insights from my days as a manager and from working with many senior-level leaders. Combine this advice with my previous post, and you will see positive results for your career, or your money back… ah… from someone else.
1. DO NOT think they owe you anything
Many employees feel entitled to their manager’s support. Some staff get very demanding.
I have seen staff create “committees” to discuss their boss behind his/her back, because they feel like they aren’t getting supported. Can you imagine what having a reputation as a rebel and anti-authority troublemaker does for your career? It kills it, in case you’re wondering. Word will travel upwards to those in control of the positions you want to get into.
This issue comes down to only putting effort towards that which you can control. If your boss isn’t supporting you, complaining usually won’t do much in the long run to actually help your career. What will go further is showing you have the ability to overcome obstacles like this.
Find a coach, another senior manager as a mentor, or other support for your career. It’s foolhardy to put all your eggs in your manager’s basket anyway, even if they are supportive. What happens if they leave? You’re back to zero. Far better to have multiple sources of support.
And when they do help you, feel free to show gratitude. Just because their job description states they should support you doesn’t mean you shouldn’t appreciate it. They will be more likely to give you their best if they feel like you are getting something out of it. I always favoured my support towards staff who showed they appreciated it the most when I was a manager.
2. DO NOT become their best friend
It’s rare for people to say they have a great boss. The ones who do usually like their boss so much that they blur professional boundaries. They become friends rather than employees. This might seem like a smart move, but actually most managers are hypersensitive to conflicts of interest. They may actually choose not to support your promotion if everyone knows you two are friends.
“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” is a concept often misinterpreted. It makes you think you should be friends with potentially helpful contacts. Not only is makingfriends with someone just for benefits totally lacking in integrity (trust me, most people can see straight through this), it is not actually the best position to be in.
Because of promotions, I have had to manage people who used to be my mentors or superiors. The closer I was with them personally, the more difficult it was to reset boundaries and define myself as someone whose instructions they had to follow.
If you really like them and want to be their friend more than you care about your career, then quit or change teams.
3. DO NOT treat them as a counselor
Your boss is neither your friend nor your counselor. There is a huge difference between seeking professional feedback versus unloading your personal issues. I think some of us are starved for a sympathetic ear, and sometimes a good boss is the only person who shows an interest in our lives without a hidden agenda.
When you disclose your personal issues and fears, you are crossing a boundary. A professional one. How on Earth can you expect your boss to support your promotion dreams when they have seen nothing but your biggest personal weaknesses?
This is NOT in conflict with my constant advice about being authentic and having integrity. Absolutely you should share your vulnerabilities and discuss your personal fears. Just don’t do it with your boss, that’s not the role they have in your life!
4. DO NOT go above their head with a complaint
Okay, this bit of advice comes with a caveat: sometimes you need to go above your manager’s head if they are completely useless, bullying, or corrupt etc. However, most of the time when I see this happen, it shouldn’t have. This is where you may need to learn a bit more about workplace politics.
When people lay a complaint about anything, they generally do so under the assumption that others will agree with them. However, most of the time they’re at least partially wrong about this. When complaining about your boss, you are almost always wrong to assume you will be agreed with. Yes, your colleagues might agree with you, but they aren’t the ones who receive the complaint!
The person who receives it is likely to be either your manager’s boss or one of his/her other superiors. These people have had most of their information about you and your team come from your boss. All managers are careful to ensure they portray to their superiors what their direct-reports are like to work with. Everything the complaint-receivers know about you is based mostly on a reputation shown to them through your boss.
Think about that for a second.
Imagine that for months your boss has been telling their superiors that his/her team are insubordinate troublemakers. What does it look like when you lay a complaint after that? It looks like you are the “ringleader” of the resistance. Hardly a good reputation to have if you want to move up in a company is it?
So… how do you deal with a boss who is in your way?
I’ve actually already shared tactics for doing this in the previous article How To Manage Your Boss (click here to see it), but here’s a quick summary:
– Work beyond your team, in projects and support for other higher-level staff. Build your reputation yourself rather than leaving it to your boss. Promote yourself actively. This way, if things get bad enough to need to lay a formal complaint or personal grievance, you will be taken seriously and seen as an equal.
– Always make sure you have tried to solve the issue in other ways before you escalate it. This should always include – indeed start with – talking directly to your boss about it. Record how you tried to resolve it for serious cases like bullying – Human Resources (HR) will need the evidence later.
Note: “bullying” is a technical term used by HR that describes targeted and consistent unfair behaviour, beyond a reasonable instruction to do your work. Do not use the word bullying unless you are sure it meets the definition, otherwise you will come across as melodramatic.
5. DO NOT backstab them
Disrespecting your boss, even behind their back, is not going to help your career at all. Not only does it make you look like everyone else who whinges about their manager, it also creates a reputation for you. If you are talking about your boss behind their back, the person you are talking to now knows that you backstab people. What happens when that person gets a promotion? Or if they turn on you and rat you out?
Backstabbing in general is also a universal sign of lacking self-confidence. Namely, a confident person would say it to their manager’s face. So, in gossiping negatively behind your manager’s back you can now add “wuss” to your reputation.
When I was going through a journey of building my self-confidence, I came across a great opportunity which turned out to be a game-changer for me. One day I walked into the lunchroom at work and there were about six people eating. All of them were talking and laughing about the various inadequacies of a new staff member, who obviously was not in the room. I knew this was one of the comfort-zone stretching opportunities I had been hoping for.
I gathered my courage and spoke up. I kindly but firmly advised that it was unfair to speak about someone who wasn’t in the room. Of course the situation was massively awkward, but the flush of embarrassment on everyone’s faces told me they knew they were in the wrong. I had made them hear themselves.
Don’t get caught up in the crowd like a weak sheep. I used to be one of those. Then one day I chose to break away, and my career escalated beyond my wildest expectations. Be a leader and show integrity; I promise it will pay off in the end. And if your peers mock you, just remember the old saying:
“A tiger isn’t bothered by the opinions of sheep”
6. DO NOT attack them in public
Following on from backstabbing, attacking your boss publicly and personally is even worse. There are a million ways you can authentically disagree with someone, and confronting them in a personal way is probably the least effective… unless you’re in the Mafia or something.
I’ve seen people destroy their career prospects in seconds by exploding at their manager in front of other staff. Everyone talks about it and eventually it reaches the ears of someone higher up; someone who is crucial to your future within the company. It’s probably the first time this senior manager has ever heard of you. Goodbye career!
If you want to deliver feedback to your boss, learn to use feedback templates and models that will allow you to do so safely, while maintaining integrity. My favourite is the “BEID” model. I’ll cover that in a future article.
If you can’t control your emotions when you express yourself, then at least don’t do it publicly. Ask to speak to your boss privately and let it out there.
I once had a staff member ask to see me privately. She then detonated at me about something I’d done which she had been fuming about all day. I think she dropped a record-number of F-bombs. But we were able to talk it through and formed a stronger bond because of it. If she had said the exact same words during a team meeting or other public setting, I might have been tempted to ruthlessly managed her out of my team, and possibly out of a job.
7. DO NOT lie to them
Put up your hand if you’ve never lied to a manager.
If your hand is up then you’re a stinking, filthy liar. Oh OK, maybe you’re one of the few, but let’s face it: nearly all of us have. Mostly it’s a faked sore throat for a much needed rest day off, or a promise to do something you know they won’t check.
I thought this was harmless until I became a manager and was on the receiving end. I despise being lied to. I actually focused much of my effort as a leader on ensuring my staff felt safe and free to be honest without consequence, just because I hate lying so much. Here’s the thing: when you lie to your boss, they probably know you’re lying! Don’t kid yourself, most people are terrible at lying and you’re probably no exception.
Your boss has heard it all before. They might sound like they believe you, but they probably don’t. And honestly, overall there isn’t too much harm to your career in lying to your boss about minor stuff, however…
There can be HUGE gains in not lying to your manager.
My favourite employee ever would call me up and say “Hey boss, not coming in today because I’m just tired. I want to relax and go fishing. I called all my clients last night and rescheduled them so you don’t need to cover me. See you tomorrow”. I accepted this gladly.
Why would I tolerate this kind of behaviour?
– He was a high performer; he had earned a break
– He hardly ever did this so I didn’t need to worry about setting a bad precedent
– He never lied to me; I could trust him without reservation (a completely honest employee is like an oasis for most managers – many of them mistrust their staff because of the constant lying and backstabbing).
Set expectations early with your boss. Tell them you will always be upfront with them, and then deliver on this promise. Along with this, DO NOT make promises you can’t keep. Another way to put this is to always “under-promise and over-deliver”.
If you’re in a job where you have seen hard evidence that people get fired for being honest, then leave the company. There are better jobs out there and much better bosses.
8. DO NOT bother yourself about what your colleagues think
When you try to manage your boss and office politics for the betterment of your career, your peers and colleagues are going to notice. And they will have something to say about it.
If you want to move up within your company, there’s only one opinion about your behaviour that matters: YOURS.
High achievers, particularly in small countries like New Zealand, often get cut down by the mob. We call it “tall-poppy syndrome” (I have no idea why it’s called this). People get scared when they see others trying to succeed, because it highlights their own lack of success. This effect creates self-loathing and panic – “Oh no! Should I be doing more with my life?”
They will project this fear outwards in the hope that their painful discomfort will be relieved.
Feel pity for any of your peers who give you grief for trying to improve your career. Understand that it’s got nothing to do with you; they are dealing with their own demons. And they aren’t going to be on the hiring panel for that promotion you want, so what they think actually does not matter.
Try some objective observation for a few weeks. You’ll notice immediately that those most likely to cut other people down are also the least likely to make any career progress at all!
I’ve heard the saying “success is the ultimate revenge”. I actually think this comes from a place of weakness. It’s like saying “I’ll show them” or “they told me I couldn’t make it, look at me now”. To me this kind of thinking lacks confidence.
If you’re trying to move up the ladder to prove something, or spite other people, then you’re not doing it for yourself and you will not find happiness that way. Get your head right. Aim for the top because it’s a journey that will make you feel fulfilled, successful and enthusiastic about life. If you can get yourself into this mind-set, then you won’t care if other people support you or put you down.
Because in the end it’s got nothing to do with them.