“My boss is an idiot*.”
I have often heard this frustration from well-meaning employees who blame their boss for their performance. Do not get me wrong, there are a lot of bad bosses in the world; I know this because I have worked with them, coached them, trained them, and in my early days, I was one. Bad bosses exist, but you cannot blame them for your performance.
We measure performance based on the effectiveness of behaviors in achieving desired results. In other words, our results directly correlate to the behavioral decisions we make every day at work. We make decisions about the effort we will apply to a task, the attitude we will have when we arrive at work, the quality of our performance, and how much that idiot boss will affect our day.
“How do I succeed when my boss is an idiot*?”
Understand what is expected of you: Every role has specific results that your organization expects you to achieve. It is your responsibility to understand what is being asked of you. What results do you need to accomplish? What behaviors are appropriate and effective in your role? What tasks and responsibilities need to be completed for you to be considered successful? What knowledge and ability do you need to be deemed competent in your role? The best way to get these questions answered is to sit down with your supervisor, go through your job description, and have them explain what they expect of you in your role. If your supervisor is unwilling or unable to do this, talk to your co-workers, and ask them what behaviors, actions, and attitudes are required for individuals to be successful in your role?
Be self-aware: In my management workshops, we discuss the Superhero SWOT analysis. Every person has a superhero within them, superpowers (strengths) they bring to the table, and kryptonite (behaviors that hold them back.) We also discuss the future potential that they can tap into and the pitfalls they must avoid to be successful. What are your strengths and potential pitfalls? To be successful, we need to understand ourselves and the legacy we want to leave behind. Introspection is beneficial, but we must also tap into our stakeholders to get their impression of our performance and ways we might be able to improve.
Create a path: Once we know where we stand and where we want to go, we need to decide on the best path for us to take. The way is different for each person but has four distinct attributes, knowledge, action, systems, and guidance. We should all ask ourselves the following questions:
- Knowledge: What do I need to know to do my job well? There is definitely a technical knowledge skillset you need to do your job. However, when I am working with individuals, we talk about the contextual knowledge we need. There is a set of unique expertise to every position that helps us be successful at our job. What is it for your job?
- Action: What actions do I need to take to do my job well? Another word for action is behavior. How do I need to behave to be successful at work? Behavior is complicated, but it originates from our interpretation of the world and our emotional responses. Once we understand the behavioral expectations of our workplace, we can work to adjust our behaviors to fit the norm.
- Systems: What systems should I use to do my job well? Systems can be complicated, such as Six Sigma, Lean Manufacturing, or as simple as a checklist. Over the years, one of the tools that I used to be effective at work is the simple checklist, and it allowed me to make sure I was getting the simple stuff right. For instance, when I worked in quality assurance, I had a checklist of all the items I needed to check for every manufactured product.
- Guidance: What guidance do I need to do my job well? This is probably the most important lesson. We cannot do it alone. Even Steve Jobs had Steve Wozniak. Thomas Eidson had his self called Muckers. The most effective leaders have business coaches to help them get greater clarity around critical aspects of their job.
Make better decisions: Every decision we make either takes us closer to our goal or farther away. Yet, we make most of our choices at a subconscious level, either with our habits, or emotional shortcuts or just by being lazy. We have a choice on how we respond to our idiot* boss, and we can allow their idiocracy to get in our way, or we can choose to work around it.
We cannot change our boss’s behavior, we can only change how we react to it
It may not be your boss; it may be you. I had a boss who I thought was an idiot for the first year that we worked together. As I changed my perspective, I better understood my job and what was expected of me. The best way to serve is to ask, “How can I best use my abilities to serve you?”
*Bosses: It is you. When I work with organizations, most issues are caused by poor management. Gallup Inc. recently completed a significant survey and had the same findings, “Seventy percent of the variance in team engagement is determined solely by the manager. It is the manager.”
I don’t blame managers; most have no training on being a manager. I have heard that the average manager is promoted at the age of 30 but doesn’t receive training until they reach 42. Many are promoted to a management role without knowing how to lead a team, motivate others, resolve conflicts, hold employees accountable, or stand up for their team. And when this is the case, the whole organization suffers. Managers – stop blaming your boss, take accountability, and become a better managers. Take a workshop. Hire an accountability coach. Read a book. Do something to be better tomorrow than you were.