While you and your manager come to work to do a job, something is getting lost in translation. Is it all their fault? Not quite. You need to step up too.
Reasons why your manager may appear difficult:
1. They are behaving badly. Behaviour is external; it’s what we see. Intentions – the inside drivers for external behaviours – are hidden. Are you judging behaviour without considering the intention? For example, when you were excluded from last week’s meeting, you interpreted that behaviour as doubting your skills, yet the intention was to protect you from a bigger workload.
2. They don’t provide constructive feedback. Your manager is probably more uncomfortable giving you critical feedback than you are at receiving it. They may be concerned about how their feedback will be heard, worrying they might offend or upset you, or perhaps damage the relationship. They may also fear a strong emotional response.
3. They don’t know it’s their job to develop you. As a junior, success is about growing yourself but as a people-leader, success is about growing others. Not all managers understand this, nor have they been supported to make this transition.
4. They’re under pressure. When leaders are under pressure – stressed, time-short – they have less mental bandwidth to take care of the non-essentials of work. Managing staff well, can often fall into this category and so the focus is lost.
5. They’re not perfect. Just like you, they are works in progress, and lack certain skills.
What are they trying to achieve? How can you help them to help you?
1. Look for the positive intention behind the behaviour. It may not be obvious, and you may need to ask. Soften your attitude and make it easier for them to be a better manager.
What might shift if you were to assume the intention that drives their behaviour is positive?
2. Move from judgement to curiosity. Get curious about what’s going on for them. If they feel judged, they will be defensive. It won’t help either of you if you continue to think that as the manager, they should know better.
What could you learn about your manager by asking some open questions and being genuinely interested in their responses?
3. Speak up. Stop whinging and instead talk to someone who can help – yes, your manager. A. Offer helpful feedback, being sure to make your intention clear. B. Ask for assertive feedback in return. C. Stipulate you want the good and the ugly, as this will help you develop. (Work on steps A and B before you attempt step C.)
Corrinne Armour is a leadership speaker, trainer and coach and is co-author of Developing Direct Reports: Taking the guesswork out of leading leaders. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.