Dear Getting a Grip: I’ve worked with women all my life, but I’ve never had a woman boss before now. I am having trouble with her style. Her credentials are good, her ideas are good, and she assigns our company’s heavy workloads in this tough economy pretty fairly. That’s one minute. The next minute, she’s worried if she’s qualified for the job, whether her ideas will work, and if everyone likes her. The temper tantrums and the crying jags are rare, but happen often enough to make me feel like a caretaker instead of a co-worker. I’m fine with having a woman lead our team. I just wish she’d do it. What do I do?
Dear Caretaker: The ideal scenario for leaders, for both women and men, is to have peer groups of fellow leaders with whom to discuss doubts, frustrations, and fledgling ideas. Time with trusted colleagues, purposefully scheduled to take a break from the demands of leadership to discuss those demands, can free leaders to lead. And that frees workers to work. Yes, women and men may have different leadership styles. You seem to have not a “woman boss” problem, but a “boss in need of pals” problem. You could easily have described a male boss who varied in behavior from drill sergeant to best buddy, alternately leading wisely, managing poorly, and abusing power to get unmet needs met.
Getting a Grip: The stage of emotional and psychic development of your boss, regardless of sex, is beyond your control. What is in your control is how you respond to the behavior of your boss.
If at all possible, avoid being drawn into a too-intimate relationship. When a crisis passes, shared moments of familiarity breed contempt, not reward. And when cutbacks come, you’ll be fired by your best friend.
Whether a boss barks orders or weeps them, if you’re staying in the position, listen for the “what” of the message, not the “how.” Determine what the problems are, which of them are within your areas of strength, expertise and jurisdiction, and solve them. Implement, execute, and accumulate accomplishments and credentials. What your boss needs – a peer group of the like-minded – create for yourself. Wherever your boss may be stalled, you’ll be driving on your own leadership road.
Need to start “Getting a Grip” on a personal problem at work? Need workplace advice? E-mail your question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Getting a Grip, a workplace advice column, is written by Anne Giles Clelland. Getting a Grip regrets that not all questions can be answered, personal replies are not possible, and questions may be edited for brevity and clarity.
Anne's Giles Clelland's workplace advice column appears monthly in Valley Business FRONT. Versions of this column appeared in the April and July 2010 issues.