In the category of not as easy as it looks: Being Boss.

Spoiler Alert: I’m not mincing words on this one. Steel yourself for stronger bolder language than usual from me and enjoy the post.

Today is National Boss’s Day. Despite its Hallmark holiday status since 1979, I wouldn’t say that National Boss’s Day is part of popular culture. Instead, complaining about a boss, movies about hating your boss, and leaving a job because of the boss are the common ground we work within. Today, even though #BossDay is not trending, I stand up for good bosses (there are many!) and also assert, “It ain’t as easy as it looks.”

From the start, organizational development, leadership and management have been a career focus for me. Thinking back, I realize that I have introduced the concept of celebrating National Boss’s Day to several of the teams and organizations I’ve worked with. And, I’m glad I did. I have fond memories of celebrating with some of my favorite bosses and I quoted several of them in a March post on this blog. If you have a good boss, celebrate it. Make sure your boss knows that you appreciate what they do for your team.

So here’s the question: Why do we love to hate our bosses?

The fact is, we all have a boss, right? Well, faculty don’t…moving on. Today, I suggest that this universal practice of complaining about the boss is rooted in the idea that we all think we could do a better job at being boss. Again I say, “Being boss is not as easy as it looks.” Let’s examine three default complaints about the boss and I’ll show you what I mean.

  1. The boss is not fair.
    Often, this impression comes from a feeling that someone in the organization is getting something you aren’t. Frankly, my lens on this one is like that of a parent. “Yes, I am treating you differently than your brother. You and your brother are two different people and what you need from me is not what he needs from me. Be glad about it.” Case in point, there are people I’ve supervised that put so much pressure on themselves to perform that I’ve talked to them about reducing their expectations of self. Conversely, others have needed a direct conversation about how much I needed their increased contributions to the team. At the end of the day, we actually want our bosses to use a more customized approach.
  2. The boss doesn’t listen to my ideas.
    Often, this impression is just plain not accurate. It may be true that the boss didn’t follow through on your idea but that doesn’t mean the idea wasn’t heard. When you’re the boss, people regularly come to you with suggestions for the problems you face. They often describe your problems as, “Easy. All you have to do is ____.” I like to give the boss the benefit of the doubt; I assume that there is information or detail I don’t have about a situation. Without complete information, my easy solution might not be the right one. BTW, the worst thing you can do is to stop expressing your ideas. I have watched people do this as a way to get back at the boss for not accepting an idea or two. It is your job to have good ideas, to share them with the boss, and to realize that you’re not the only one in this universe.
  3. The boss doesn’t understand the work I do.
    Often, people have a mistaken impression that, in order to supervise a [occupation here], you have to have worked as a [same occupation here]. To quote Vice President Joe Biden, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.” (Note: if you don’t know what malarkey means, then substitute BS.) It’s amusing to me that, at the same time we don’t want to be micromanaged—another regular complaint about bosses—we think the boss must be able to do our jobs before earning our respect. The right kind of boss, and I hope we are all trying to be that kind, can manage anyone. I can name several web programmers and sys admins who would serve as references for my bossiness, and I am not an exception. Leadership is not the sole claim of any particular discipline or job type. We all need bosses who lead, not people who can do our jobs when we take a day off.

Sincerely, I know that there are some bad, bad bosses out there. I’ve worked for them and I am keenly aware of how much they can ruin a job or an organization you otherwise love. My point is make sure your expectations about the boss are as fair as the expectations you hope the boss has about you. And, as importantly, look in the mirror and examine your own motivations and perceptions.

Cheers to my mStoner boss, Voltaire Miran (@vsantosmiran). His name isn’t the only thing cool about him.

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Author: susantevans

Susan T. Evans is director of corporate and foundations relations at the College of William & Mary. She is a proven strategic leader with deep expertise in advancement, communications, brand management, marketing, digital strategy, technology, administration and organizational development. She is known for creative and strategic approaches to challenges within higher education, nonprofits and business.

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