What’s at Stake, Up and Down

Guest Post by: Fred Jones, GUAA Coaching Partner

Most of the bosses you’ve had probably fall toward the middle of this contrast: between whether you felt they made it easier or harder to do your thing as a leader. If you’ve had enough bosses, as I’ve had, there’s also at least one on each extreme. Someone who wore you out and drove you crazy, and one who made you better and stronger than you thought possible.

Take a longer look and consider what each of those extreme bosses was doing. Add to that an assessment, from your perspective, how they were “being”–by which I mostly mean the degree to which they seemed at ease, at least in the roles they were playing, in their own skin. Do you sense a difference?

Without fail, we have a lot at stake in our boss. The same goes in reverse. The quality of the connection makes a difference in how information flows and how productively it is used in an organizational system. It also affects the climate–the mood, the weather–from day to day. Poor relationships up and down leave us carrying an extra weight as we move through what already may be complex and challenging. This quality also is visible to others, and it affects their confidence in what’s possible and what’s worth putting discretionary effort into.

From below, there are things you can do to work on the quality upward. You can get in tune on the kind of access you can provide each other, the range of authority you have, how you represent your own point of view even when it varies from your boss’s, and more. Even that sample of a much longer list may sound difficult. The key: making it discussible. This means making the functioning of the relationship itself the focus of attention, with candid sharing of what each of you need from the other. There’s a chance that if you are suffering in the relationship, so is your boss. They may want to make it better, but they never took the time to take your perspective on it.

You may be that boss with one or more of your direct reports. Not necessarily the extreme boss. But you may be in the middle, the one who hasn’t really paused to see what it really is like to report up to you. The boss who is responsible for some amount of lost productivity and personal suffering. You can open the way for them and make the relationship discussible–which means, of course, not making it all about you. If you engage to learn, you are likely to discover something important that may affect not just them but you and the quality of your life as a leader.

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