Stop complaining about your boss

By Angelo Kinicki

Weatherup/Overby Chair in Leadership

I had coffee with a friend the other day, and she was complaining about her boss. She told me how he fails to provide direction and then micromanages to get what he wants. She further noted that he "never" provides feedback or recognition and shows favoritism. When I asked about why he has favorite employees, her face turned bright red, and she said, "Because he's a bad boss."

Most of us pride ourselves on having the ability to identify a good boss. It is easy because most of us have experienced a bad boss and just hope for the opposite qualities.

But what about being a good follower? Do you know what it takes to be a good employee?

Managers, salaried employees, hourly workers, part-time workers and volunteers all report to someone. Even most CEOs report to a board of directors. We all are followers at some point in time.

Leaders and followers are obviously closely linked. It is impossible to lead without followers, and it's hard to follow without good leaders. Each needs the other, and one of the few things we can control in the relationship is how we relate to both roles.

Complaining about a bad boss may make you feel better, but it won't change the boss' behavior. It's also unlikely to create a change in your behavior or improve your situation. Therefore, rather than complaining, I encourage you to focus on improving your relationship with the boss. Focus on what it takes to be a "good follower."

Consider these things:

  1. Identify your approach toward being a follower. This is important, because your approach affects your boss' attitudes and behaviors toward you. Are you a helper, complying and cooperating with the boss and rarely challenging authority? Are you an independent, distancing yourself from the boss' authority, being less compliant and speaking your mind, preferring to work without much input from the boss? Are you a rebel, challenging the boss and being even less compliant than an independent? As you consider your style, ask yourself if it has helped to develop a good working relationship with your boss. If not, then consider changing your approach.
  2. Assess your strengths and weaknesses and those of your boss. Knowing these characteristics enables you to effectively help your boss. For example, if the boss does not like to create agendas for meetings and you are good at details, then offer to create a draft of the agenda for the next meeting. If your boss does not like to handle customer complaints and you are comfortable dealing with conflict, then step up and take care of such issues.
  3. Contribute to your boss' goal achievement. This requires that you consider the type of goals and projects your boss is responsible for getting done. You can be helpful by proactively offering to contribute to the completion of these goals and projects. Of course, don't offer to help on tasks that are not among your strengths unless development is your goal.
  4. Exhibit behaviors preferred by bosses. Bosses want followers who are proactive, flexible, reliable, honest and productive. Displaying these traits just might get you the title of "favorite." Bosses don't want followers who hide the truth, withhold information, spread negative gossip, are unwilling to cooperate and collaborate and are overly political. Avoid these types of behaviors if you want to have a better relationship.

There is much written about leadership. It's not hard to find recommendations about being a better leader. This is not so true for followership. This is unfortunate, because many of us will not assume leadership roles, but we all are followers. All the best leaders I have had the privilege to work alongside have been great followers.

By engaging in effective followership, you just might see some changes in yourself and others around you, particularly your boss. I also suspect you will be happier with your job and relationships.

To improve relationships, remember that your attitudes about followership and self-accountability are key. As Andy Warhol said, "They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself."

First published in The Arizona Republic, Oct. 4, 2014.  

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