All leadership styles are unique. There may be some similarities between leaders but the human element of leadership makes every leader different. There are characteristics of leadership that individual leaders gravitate to or use more than other characteristics, and generally, this is done to suit their personality. Opinions vary on what constitutes a “good” leader, what I describe below is my perspective on why and how leaders fail and how you can manage your relationship with a leader you are having trouble following. In the workplace, there are two forms of leadership, paid and unpaid. Simply put, there are people who are paid by the organization to lead you as a part of their job description and there are people who demonstrate leadership qualities naturally even though it is not a formal part of their job description. I am specifically targeting the paid leadership role and dealing with your direct manager/supervisor.
Lack of clear communication is a major pitfall when working with another person, when that person depends on you for guidance, feedback and resources it can be catastrophic for the direct report/management relationship. There are very few things worse that can happen in the workplace than finding out for the first time that you are performing poorly at your job during your annual performance review. There are some managers who think sarcasm, insinuation, vague references and body language are a substitute for providing actual feedback and coaching. If you find yourself dealing with someone who isn’t giving you the communication that you need to perform your job at a high level then you must act as the conduit and solicit feedback. Send them a written request to discuss your performance with very specific questions about how well you are performing. When you have the conversation be prepared to hear the positive and the negative but make sure you don’t get hung up on the negative feedback. Instead try and find a path to success by partnering with your leader and creating a plan for you to meet/exceed the goal wherever they feel you have an opportunity to improve. If you have a negative feeling about your job performance but you have never been told you aren’t performing well, take the initiative and reach out. Even though the process has failed you doesn’t mean you don’t have a part in it and you can save yourself plenty of stress and anxiety by initiating the conversation. If your manager is trying to get you out of your seat they will undoubtedly be accumulating documentation about your performance whether they are sharing it with you or not and depending on the company you work for the fact that you found out about it later than sooner isn’t enough to keep your job. Take the initiative. Send a written request for a feedback meeting if you don’t already have one scheduled. If you meet with your manager regularly but don’t discuss your performance make sure you bring it up and ask!
If you feel like it would benefit you in your career if your manager would delegate some things to you but they are keeping everything close to the vest you are probably experiencing major frustration. There is nothing worse than feeling like your light is being dimmed (intentionally or unintentionally) when all you need is an opportunity to show what you can do. If you have a formal meeting with your manager there is always a point in the meeting either in the beginning or the end where they ask “do you have anything for me?”. That is your moment to put yourself out there and say yes, I really think I could add more value if you threw some projects or duties my way. If you don’t have a formal/regular meeting with your manager then ask for one or just send them your request in writing. Please make sure you are in good standing prior to making this request and if you aren’t positive, make sure you open up your line of communication. No one really delegates to someone who isn’t already performing their listed duties well. Delegating can be a tricky thing for a manager especially if they have been burned in the past but you can build that trust by demonstrating how great you are in your current role. I am not suggesting people take on additional tasks for the fun of it, this is more of an avenue to gain experience and exposure to further your career.
If you can avoid having a personal relationship with your manager, do your best to keep things professional. More often than not it doesn’t end well. There are always exceptions and some will think that having a personal relationship with their manager will be a benefit, but it really will only serve to create a hostile work environment and probably leadership failure. Again, there are exceptions, but that is exactly what they are, exceptions. This is not to say you should not have a positive, collaborative, friendly working relationship with your manager. That is the sweet spot that allows both to meet and exceed goals that much easier. There is a very clear line between someone you work well with and someone you go to lunch with on a regular basis or have drinks with after work. If your boss wants to hang out with you, that is usually a problem. Don’t get me wrong, who wouldn’t want to hang out with you? You are awesome! But they need to find a peer or someone who doesn’t report to them directly to socialize with, both during and after work. After you get promoted to another department or they leave for greener pastures then, if you both want to be friends, by all means go for it but while there is a direct line, do your best to steer clear of personal relationships with your manager.
It can be a real struggle when you don’t have confidence in your leader. It is a challenging job and not everyone is up to the challenge. It takes an unbelievable amount of patience, empathy, trust, communication and desire to make it really work and like anything in life, you don’t know until you know. This is not to give anyone a pass, because like anything else, if it’s not for you then you shouldn’t choose it. For those who are struggling knowingly or unknowingly it may require you as the employee to become more proactive in your relationship depending on where they fall short. Just know that you can possibly help them by doing so but at a minimum you can make your experience with them better for you. Just make sure you are correctly assessing the problem, I have had leaders tell me things about my performance that I didn’t want to hear and I took it personally. That is not what I am addressing. There are times when the relationship isn’t what you would like it to be because of your performance or attitude, but that is something that can also be improved by open communication once you correctly process the feedback. It is never too late to begin the communication process as long as you are genuine in your request. If you make the effort to collaborate and communicate to improve your communication because they have not in your opinion then at a minimum you have a paper trail attempting to establish accountability. The phrase “managing your manager” is real, and if you find yourself having to do that feel confident in knowing you have some tools to find a path to success.