Coach your boss


Before you punt the ball on your relationship with your boss, consider whether you can gain ground with a little coaching. Then tackle any sore spots with these six strategies.

Ever watch the movie Ben-Hur? At one point, the hero, Judah Ben-Hur, is forced to row a warship with the other slaves into battle. It's hot, cramped, and sticky, and—let's face it—these people haven't bathed in a while. The tension builds as the enemy ships come into view. The slaves are chained to their oars and the oarsman pounds out a beat that the slaves must match in their rowing pace. The pounding beat gets faster and the slaves row furiously to keep up. They begin to collapse and fall to the floor, unable to keep the pace—even when there's a whip across their back to force them to keep going. Does this sound familiar? I hope not. But if it does, it's time to learn a few techniques to manage your manager.

Ask anyone who's worked for someone for a while and they'll quickly agree: Nothing compares to a wonderful boss. Several recent studies by the American Management Association demonstrate employees who enjoy working with their bosses are more likely to stick around. Team members who feel ignored, unchallenged, unacknowledged, and taken for granted will typically do just enough to get by—creating a cycle that further distances them from their managers.

Drop the megaphone

We tend to accept, rather than confront, difficult behavior in bosses—and ourselves. Achieving change may seem tough—or even impossible. While it's true you can't control your manager's behavior, you choose how you'll respond. When you manage your manager, you enhance the work environment, increase your success, and reduce your frustration with your boss. Let's look at six solutions to improve your work life.

Get your ideas heard

She's on a different playing field

Every morning, when Andrea walks into the NoCanTell Animal Clinic, she wonders whether her manager will ignore her. No "Good morning." No "How are you?" No response at all, like Andrea doesn't exist. "Makes me want to go to lunch and see how long it takes her to notice I never came back," she thinks.

8 communication tips

Do you see your boss as a person with the same day-to-day problems and personality idiosyncrasies as everyone else on the team? While this doesn't excuse seemingly negative behavior, bosses deserve some degree of understanding that—just like you—they can be distracted from the people around them. However, if this is more than just an occasional issue, it's time to manage your boss's potentially destructive behavior.

Get your boss

Ask for a private meeting to discuss your impressions. This may be the instant message your boss needs to understand how others perceive her actions. Then ask how you can improve communication so your discussions are more productive and professional and less confrontational or destructive.

The boss cries foul

"Hey, I'll try being nicer if you try being smarter," David quips at Sarah while he heads to the lab. Boy, is he tired of Sarah's questions. The boss was on him about starting the lab work earlier in the morning: "What's it going to take to get you to come to work on time?" Not the way to start the morning. "Why can't he see training Sarah's slowing me down?" David thinks. "I probably shouldn't have snapped at Sarah, but man, I'm sick of this ..."

Bad feelings spread quickly. And while we may think we're good communicators, all too often, we learn others hear our message differently than we intended. That's because we all filter and absorb information in our own way. So when in doubt, over-communicate. It's better to make sure your boss understands what's happening than to guess or just assume.

If you find yourself chanting, "My boss doesn't have a clue what I do around here," it's time to ask, "Why not?" If your boss isn't taking steps to improve communication, take the initiative. Ask for a 15-minute meeting every two weeks to share what's happening in the clinic. Make this a private, scheduled time when you won't be disturbed. Yes, this can be a challenge, but it's worth it. Prepare an agenda and share this list with your boss in advance to demonstrate your organizational skills and interest in maximizing her time. You want to show you're interested in performance and not just complaining.

The cheerleaders decamped

Marsha has a big idea once a minute, and the rest of the team just can't keep up. Today, she wants to launch a doggy day care program. Last week, she instituted a new callback policy. She's driving everyone nuts, and the programs usually fall apart and are forgotten weeks later.

"That's never going to work," Rachel grumbles. "How can she expect us to make callbacks to every client after surgeries?" "Don't worry," Rick responds. "This idea will go away eventually with the rest of her bright ideas."

Heard any of these comments around the clinic? Don't feed the negativity monster. Instead, choose to share positive ideas and feedback. Find out what your boss needs to succeed and pitch in. Even if she doesn't change her behavior, you can be proud of a job well done. And your attitude may improve the entire office atmosphere.

Wanted: MVP

Patty, the head technician at Anything Goes Animal Hospital, arrives late, leaves early, and never seems to be around when Meg has a question. "She doesn't really care about her job," Meg thinks, "So why should I?" Meg spends her time obsessing about what Patty does, and she doesn't see how her own performance suffers.

How do you react to a negative environment? Try to lead by example. Make a list of the traits you'd like your boss to possess and radiate them. Your list might include such characteristics as humility, kindness, patience, and empathy. Or maybe your ideal boss is a warmhearted, tolerant teacher.

When you focus on your own work and do your best job, you'll feel good about your results and go home happy with yourself.

Who's calling the plays?

Anna wants to tell her great idea to Dr. Harried, but he never has a moment to spare. She fusses, fidgets, and frets, and he never notices she's tied in knots because she can't get her idea heard.

Don't let frustration overwhelm you. Instead, try to determine your boss's work style and use it to tailor your message. What are his values? The closer your ideas, suggestions, and projects connect to his values, the greater your chance of success.

Is your boss task-oriented or people-oriented? Easy to upset or calm? Does he prefer appointments for meetings or is his door open? Think about previous conversations and consider the elements of the discussion that went well. What made them work?

Maybe facts and results drive your boss, while your team feels inspired by relationships or routines. Read about personality and behavior differences and how to make them mesh. Perhaps your team can explore personality and behavior profiles and discuss your results and group culture at a staff meeting.

Consider free agency

It's always a good idea to track your accomplishments, even when you're happy at work. So once a week, list your achievements and positive feedback in a journal, calendar, or computer file. While you're at it, keep a file with letters of appreciation from pet owners. Also include any continuing education programs you've completed. If your performance reviews include a self-evaluation, this offers a chance to illustrate your value. This list is also useful when you're looking for a new position.

If you can't make your relationship work, you may need to part ways amicably. It's important to leave on good terms. Remember, no one wants to hire an employee who talks badly about the place she's coming from. So give appropriate notice and keep a positive attitude while you're at work.

It's up to you to manage your manager and develop skills that build your value. These tools will help you flourish at work and maintain a healthy relationship with your boss. Ready to redesign your connection with your manager? It's your choice. Make it happen.

Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT

Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, is a Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a partner with VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. Please send questions or comments to

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