I ran into “Larry” the other day and pretty quickly he started telling me about how awful his job is. He’s watched the place go through several transitions, and still worries that things are not being done the way he would want them done. And worse yet, his “boss tells me what to do!” That really bugs him.
At the moment, Larry is being managed by someone almost 30 years younger than he is. He says she doesn’t know the business as well as he does and treats him like he’s stupid. She’s always checking in to see how he’s doing and actually trying to manage him, which he resents. “What could she possibly tell me?” Larry challenged, without expecting an answer.
Larry then proceeded to tell me all about the latest injury done to him. It was about an hour from the end of the work day and the beginning of a holiday break. Larry’s boss came up to him and said “I see you’re finished with your quota for the day. You can go home early.”
How can my boss do that!
Well, Larry almost exploded. How dare she tell HIM he can go home early? He can decide for himself when he wants to go home. Who does she think she is! (His boss, maybe?) If he wants to stay late and do some advance work or maybe just look over his recent files, he has every right to make that decision for himself. The nerve of her! As far as he’s concerned, at this stage of his career, he doesn’t need to be managed and won’t let anyone do so – especially this young woman!
I listened to the frustration pour out of him and, since this was a friendly conversation and definitely NOT a coaching situation, I just asked a question or two out of curiosity. One thing I asked was how long she’s been his boss. Only a short time. So then I asked if he had applied for the job. “No way! I don’t need those headaches. Why would I want to fill out extra reports and manage anyone?”
Doesn’t want anyone to manage him!
So there we are. He’s miserable being managed by someone and doesn’t want to be managed – and yet wants to keep this job and be allowed to do everything his way. And he’s angry that the situation is so uncomfortable. Plus his boss, who is admittedly new to management, has tried to address Larry’s attitude and told him how uncomfortable he was making it for her. But he sees no need to find a solution – he just wants things the way he wants them.
Now under the circumstances, I was happy to let Larry vent. But in all honesty, he didn’t seem relieved by telling the story. He only seemed to become more agitated by the unfairness of it all. So I changed the subject and we got into a friendlier conversation. He clearly didn’t want any advice from me.
Another way to see things
Let’s look at this from a different angle. The circumstances are what they are and they aren’t going to magically change. The only one Larry has any control over is Larry. So what could he do differently?
One thing he could do is realize that he chose not to apply for the manager’s job because he didn’t want the responsibility. That’s totally cool. But in doing so, it helps to accept that part of his choice results in his being managed. Lighten up about that, Larry. It happens to the best of us!
Now, from his boss’s perspective Larry is probably someone she dreads approaching because he’s so resentful and resistant. She’s also probably trying her best. She even told him to go home early, thinking that was a nice thing. But he just saw that as her trying to control him! Again, if Larry could just try to shift his attitude a bit and see it as a nice gesture and not symbolic shackles and chains, maybe he could begin to shift what he’s feeling.
Choice is a powerful tool
Larry has a powerful tool at his command: he can choose to start working with her, and not apart from her. He has years of experience and could help mentor her by “managing up” — a gentle way of helping a manager do a good job while still showing respect. He could also talk to her and explain his feelings and then openly offer to work with her to make things better. I bet she’d jump at that from what he told me.
And finally, he could let go of resenting her youth and inexperience — and maybe even her gender. Lord knows the number of times I’ve worked for people who haven’t had my experience, but if the person’s my boss, well then I just roll up my sleeves and look for ways to make it work better. And each person has talents and skills we don’t have. Better to look for them than focus on what’s not there.
In Larry’s case, a mere decision by him – which is in his OWN control – to accept that he is being managed and at least try to help his boss learn how to best work with him could make a world of difference to Larry’s own work day. All that energy he uses resenting and feeling put upon, can instead go into his work – and also to looking for solutions to the unfortunate relationship that’s in place now.
Of course, he shouldn’t expect miracles. Sometimes these shifts take time. And it would be helpful for him not to set traps, waiting for her to stumble and fall in. This really is a situation where it would help if he found a way to like her – or at least respect what she’s trying to do and also play a part in helping her become a better manager.
And the real winner is …
The big winner here would be Larry himself, because his workday would be focused on more positive things and not on building a war chest of hurt and resentment. I bet just knowing that Larry won’t be such a pain any more will help lighten up his boss too, who is probably not comfortable letting herself relax around him.
At the very least, Larry would know he is making an effort toward a positive outcome, rather than feeling like a victim all the time. He might actually get to enjoy coming in. And when his boss tells him what to do, it won’t feel like an attack. He’ll get that it’s her job. And part of his.
In the end, Larry does have control. Not of the circumstances, but rather of his attitude and perspective. It won’t change the job itself, but it might change the way he feels about being there. And we all know that can be a big change!
NOTE: This is not to say that some bosses — bully bosses — tell you what to do without respect or concern for you as a human being. Just a cog in the wheel. That’s a different story.
Every employee deserves respect. Some post below to help with that. But just don’t forget the role your own attitude and perspective may play.
About the author…
Ronnie Ann, founder of Work To the Wise and Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development, as well as her many adventures as a serial job seeker.
More posts to help