Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Workplace Rules #2: Bosses Do Not Accurately Gauge Their Own Competence

As part of my ongoing series I'm calling The Workplace Rules, let me delve into #2:
If you are a boss, understand that many subordinates will not be 100% candid with you, especially regarding shitty things you say or do.
In my experience, people who are bad supervisors often are not cognizant of the fact that, by its very nature, supervisor-supervised relationships involve power imbalance. A supervisor, with the power to hire/fire and give professional reviews, has a fair amount of power over  a subordinate's financial well-being and professional status. Thus, being a subordinate involves a certain amount of eggshell-walking-on in order maintain a good working relationship with the person who holds that power.

If a supervisor is Jerky, ranging on a scale from annoyingly micro-managey to abusive, a subordinate broaching that topic with their supervisor is sort of putting themselves on the line.

Example, I was once in a workplace situation in which a higher-level man, let's call him HLM, was known for engaging in angry outbursts during staff meetings. These outbursts followed a pattern. HLM would say something in a meeting, another person would respond in a professional manner somewhat disagreeing with him, the conversation would move on, HLM would sit and visibly stew about the other person's response, and then 10 minutes later during a different agenda item, HLM would, with red face angrily interrupt and circle back the conversation to the previous agenda item with a retort such as, "You know, I feel like I said something and it wasn't properly acknowledged."

By that he meant that his statement, that of a white man, wasn't responded to with automatic acceptance and wave after wave of thundering applause. No joke.

So, with his peers and subordinates (and do such white men truly have peers??) regularly observing that behavior, how safe do you think those who reported to him felt to bring up concerns or criticisms they might have had with his work, let alone his workplace behavior?  Boss fragility + boss aggression is a truly toxic, scary combination for direct reports.

And thus the situation becomes self-perpetuating. People like HLM engage in craptacular workplace behavior, people can't critique the behavior without fearing repercussions, and thus without receiving that feedback, the HLMs of the world sometimes have no idea how shitty they are being and how awful their subordinates think they are.

That, I think, is something to be cognizant of, for those in supervisory positions.

From the perspective of the subordinate, I'm not sure the best way to approach those situations, but I guess being aware of the dynamic can at least make one feel less gaslit by bosses who insist they are awesome because no one ever tells them otherwise?

Practically, too, pushing for some sort of 360 review where direct reports review their supervisors can sometimes help. Unless, of course, you're the only person reporting to an HLM.

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