A search for the ideal boss is like a quest for the Holy Grail. It will always elude you.
Getting along with your boss is more about perspective, give and take, and a lot of grace more than an ideal.
For example, when an employee has a highly structured and possibly detailed boss, they often want more freedom and empowerment. And when an employee has a highly fluid and creative ideas boss they often want more structure and clarity. It’s human nature to want more of the one you don’t have. However, that skews how you see the situation, and therefore solutions may escape you.
It is possible that you just might work for a jerk, and maybe you should leave. But candidly, that’s rare. It’s usually a situation that can be improved relatively easily if both of you want it to.
Four insights that will help improve your working relationship with your boss:
1) A boss without flaws is an unproductive expectation.
The expectation of a perfect boss is something like the expectation of a perfect spouse. It’s not going to happen. If you persist in that expectation, not only will you be disappointed, but you’ll miss all the good that was right before you.
I’ve listened to staff members in numerous churches say something like, “I’m not asking for perfect, but my boss is a LONG way from anywhere near perfect.” If you or anyone starts there, the road to an enjoyable working relationship will be long and bumpy.
It’s best to start with achieving a common desire, that is, each of you needs to want to put the other first.
Your boss must choose to serve you through development and wanting more for you than from you. One without the other doesn’t work.
That foundation coupled with trust and open communication will go a long way toward enabling you both to have great conversations. That leads to point number two.
2) Don’t be afraid to take a risk.
It’s important to have honest conversations – even when they are tough. Not every week, not even every month, but have them.
If you fear the consequences of asking a tough question or confronting an issue, perhaps you are not in a healthy situation, and change is needed, one way or the other.
I’m not recommending that you leave, but why stay if you are afraid to be honest? You won’t be happy or fulfilled in the long term and therefore won’t be able to do your best work. No one wins in that situation.
How you have a potentially tough conversation really matters. Always show respect and gratitude. Always. Ask questions, don’t make accusations, and make sure you genuinely want what’s best for your boss just as much as you want what’s best for you.
If your genuine desire is to serve your boss well, and you’re doing a good job, the vast majority of these conversations go well.
3) Drill down for clarity on your role and responsibility.
When I was a young leader and did not have much experience as a supervisor, a pastor fired off a very frustrated: “What do you want from me?!!” I was stunned, but calmly replied, “I want you to do your job.” He then asked, “Just what is my job?!” I began to list his responsibilities, and we quickly discovered we were far from aligned. Neither one of us handled that well, but the good news was that we both shared great appreciation and respect for each other so gaining clarity was not difficult from there.
Clarity in what is expected of you is not only needed; it’s non-negotiable. It should be in writing and reviewed at least annually. But day to day formality isn’t the goal. Just talk. Most situations are resolved quickly if you will talk.
That’s how the pastor and I resolved it. One good conversation, and we also wrote it down.
4) Maturity always makes the relationship better.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough that casually talking about your boss to others never helps.
Maturity is a two-way street for sure. But the focus of this article is on what you can do to get along better with your boss.
You do need a place to gain wise counsel, perspective, and practical advice. That should be limited to one or two people, (three at most not including your spouse), who are not your “buddies.”
Your buddies will typically defend your perspective without question. One person inside your organization and one-two person(s) outside your church is enough. Choose people who are smart, strong and care about you.
You will find what you look for and experience what you focus on. If you look for and emphasize the good, your relationship with your boss can improve nearly overnight.
You will experience less stress and frustration. This combined with the previous things I’ve mentioned can make a huge difference.
2 thoughts on “How To Get Along Better With Your Boss”
Thank you so much Dan for your great insights in so many areas. I have one question about this post. Under point 4 you noted in parentheses “not including your spouse”. Are you recommending that employees not share negative things about their boss with their spouse at all OR simply that the spouse not be one of the 2 or 3 that you share with (in essence you could have 3 or 4 including your spouse)? I ask because this has come up often in conversation with employees about how much they should share with their spouse about the dynamics with their boss.
Good question Dale. I meant to communicate that your spouse is an assumed part of personal conversations about everything you do, so yes, 3-4 including your spouse. The idea, more than the number, is to keep the group small. Too many voices becomes confusing noise. When you have the right voices, and put God’s voice first, you are good to go.