"I can't take it anymore. Whenever we're in meetings, she deliberately tries to make me look stupid. I've got to get out of there."
You may have heard the phrase, "People don't leave their jobs, they leave their bosses." In recent months, that expression has achieved a mantra-like status in my consulting office. I honestly can't count the number of times I have heard a patient say something to the effect of: "I like my job, but I hate my boss."
I hear stories of poor management across industries on a daily basis -- for some reason, this seems to be an especially horrific problem in the financial services and legal fields -- possibly because people who are good at one thing get promoted but lack the ability to manage others. This, by the way, is known as "The Peter Principle," which basically says that people in organizations rise to the level of their incompetence -- and then stay there.
You probably don't need me to explain what a lousy boss is, but what might be useful is to consider what qualities make a good boss. As we are in the season of Mother's Day and Father's Day, when we take the time to appreciate our parents, I began to think that being a good boss is basically the same as being a good parent. Here's why:
3 Ways That Being a Good Boss Is Like Being a Good Parent
1.) Stress -- Yes. You read that right. Good parents and good bosses are actually supposed to give you stress. This may come as a relief to many of the parents and people who have parents out there. The reason that your parent is supposed to give you stress is that, well, they care about you -- a lot. There are actually two kinds of stress: There's distress and eustress. Distress is the kind of stress you feel when you are being bullied, manipulated, or abused. This is the kind of stress that gets the most media attention. Then there is eustress, which is positive stress brought on by good mentors and coaches who are trying to get you challenge your limits and succeed, or by physical therapists who are helping to strengthen your muscles to come back from an injury. As you may have already guessed, a good boss or a good parent should be giving you eustress, not distress. If you have a boss who wants you to do your best, he or she should be pushing you beyond your comfort zone, not (just) for the company, but for you. We can only develop and grow when we have some degree of stress -- this is something that both great parents and great bosses know, and use to help you.
2.) Support -- This should probably go without saying, but a like a good parent, a good boss should always have your back in public. Sometimes a boss or a parent may need to be a bit tough on you -- that's part of the job. If he or she wants to take you to task quietly when no one is around, that's okay. But a boss (or a parent for that matter) who belittles, shames, or "throws you under the bus" in front of other people, is not a good boss (or parent). Public shaming is a no no and suggests that the problems you may be having at work have to do with your boss, not you.
3.) Success -- This is the most important one. Your boss, like your parent, should be aiming for your success. If you don't feel like your boss is looking for ways to help further your career, or worse, is trying to sabotage you, then you don't have a boss -- you have a problem. A good boss, like a good parent, knows that when you look good he or she looks good. Parents and bosses that try to keep you down out of fear that you might outshine them are toxic.
What to do about a "toxic boss"?
If your boss is lacking in these qualities, then regardless of how much you might like your job, your productive days at there may be numbered. Consider ways that you might be able to talk to your boss in non-threatening ways to ask for what you want. But be specific. Don't just say, "be nicer." Instead, try something like, "Hey, do you remember when you called me a 'glorified gofer' in front of the whole team? Yeah, that didn't feel good. If you want to give me feedback, please do it in private." If that doesn't work, you may want to talk to human resources. Generally speaking, I would avoid going over your boss's head if at all possible (though there are exceptions to this). If none of these strategies work, it may be time to look for a new parent -- I mean boss.