I want to start this blog post by saying that I love my boss, and almost all past bosses I’ve had. In each case, each job, they taught me invaluable lessons. I’m not trying to kiss ass (ok maybe a little haha), but I’ve honestly been really lucky in meeting awesome bosses and mentors.
Yet once in a while I do get frustrated at my boss (like everyone else in my life).
When that happens, I first keep it to myself, let a good night sleep dissolve my emotions, and move on. I sometimes raise up the matter with them with a clear mind the next day, especially if the issue impact my team, but often not, when it only impacts me.
I never thought to explore why I get frustrated at my boss as compared to other people. That’s until a few days ago, when I was reading The Road to Character (highly recommended), while also being frustrated at my boss for failing to address a situation I raised up weeks ago that has now turned into an urgent fire.
What I realized was that I tend to get frustrated at my boss for failing to be perfect. Being in a position of power (in this case, a VP of our company), being superior to me, and being able to affect our startup’s long-term direction, I expected my boss to know everything I know, take the best decision all the time, and have the answers to everything. How unreasonable, right? Nobody is perfect. Nobody can predict the future accurately. And more importantly, no manager should ever be as technically knowledgeable and experienced as their subordinates (advocated by many top leaders including Andy Grove in High Output Management).
So why did I expect my boss to never make a mistake? I attribute it to our educational system, where teachers have the answer to everything they teach, and are in a capacity to judge the quality of our work. Especially in STEM programs, there are actually “correct” answers that get perfect scores, and professors whom know the “correct” answers. Our educational system has created the perception that individuals in authority know everything.
This expectation doesn’t stop with bosses. We expect our politicians to be perfect and bark whenever they are less than statesmanlike. We expect our parents to be perfect and get frustrated when they don’t “get us” or don’t understand modern trends. It’s a sign that we simply want people, especially those that have influence over us, to always do what’s best for us.
I personally do not believe that such an expectation is reasonable, for several reasons:
- Everyone makes mistakes. As this blog shows, I certainly make a ton of them. And if my boss is anything like me, a human being, they ought to also have emotions, exposure to new situations, and other traits that contribute to a less than perfect response once in awhile.
- What’s bad for us may not be bad for others. No other individual in the world has experienced life exactly as I did. Each one of us can only witness life in our own eyes. This leads to various interpretations on the same situation, differing priorities, and diverse goals in mind. This means that what I interpret as a negative outcome may not always be a negative outcome for others. Yet because we think that we’re at the center of the world, we interpret anything that has a negative impact on us as bad. Fact is that a bad decision for us may have been positive one for our boss and the rest of the team.
- We don’t share the same responsibilities. As a team, our skills should not overlap, but rather complement each other. Especially in relation to my boss, I’m not supposed to share the same expertise and day-to-day responsibilities. So any expectation that my boss knows what we know perfectly and can do it even better is unreasonable. Personally, I can’t do what many of my team members do technically and that’s great.
- Expectations were not communicated. I also notice instances where I expect certain things of my manager, but have never communicated them. How reasonable is that? I once became frustrated at my manager for failing to reprimand a fellow colleague’s manipulative ways, yet I never spoke up about my colleague’s behavior. Without any evidence or insight on the subject, how can I assume that my boss has any idea that my colleague is behaving negatively? When I did bring up the subject, my manager was actually very receptive.
The only element that’s within our control in the above list is the proactive communication of our expectations. Everything else is outside our control, so I’d argue that we need to learn to appreciate them for what they are, rather than complain about any of it.
So if we have any expectations for our superiors, the only thing we can do is to communicate them. Any frustrations that we have in regard to an expectation are only justified if our boss has agreed to that expectation. Just like when we set expectations with our team members.
Let’s also remember that our manager’s goal is to guide our team toward our company goals. This includes making sure that we are happy and successful. Any good manager should thus be trusted with the ability to listen to our expectations of them, along with any constructive feedback.
If by experience, we find that our boss isn’t receptive to feedback, doesn’t have our best intentions in mind, and has a selfish agenda of their own, it’s time to change teams. But let’s make sure we give it a couple of tries and maybe even address the issue with their manager.
Finally, let’s also remember that all of us are in a position of authority to someone else. A team member, a child, a student… The sooner we set the expectation that we’re not perfect, and that we want their feedback, the less frustrations they’ll experience.
Let’s sit down with our boss and ask them if they are interested in receiving feedback from time to time. If so, let’s also ask them how to best communicate them.
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