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Episode 34 – Bosses Aren’t Always Great Leaders

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Episode 34 - Bosses Aren’t Always Great Leaders

The minute we get a boss, we think that it’s their job to have all the answers and never, ever make a mistake. And when they do make a mistake, we think it automatically means they’re a bad boss. Or at least, not a good one.

But the truth is, your boss is a human being just like you. And a lot of the time, the reason you having a difficult experience dealing with your boss is because of some thought errors or false expectations you have about your boss.

In this episode, I’m talking about how being a boss doesn’t automatically mean your boss knows how to be a good leader. We’ll talk about why that is, and how you can leverage that knowledge to improve the experience you’re having with your boss.

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Hello, my friends. It is great to have you here. The sun is finally shining and spring has finally arrived in Southern Ontario. I am so excited because it’s my favorite time of year. I love the spring. I love it when everything comes back to life. I just feel rejuvenated. When you feel the heat of the sun and the smell of summer in the air, I just love that time of year. And I have been using this time in isolation to get as productive as possible. 

I have to say, probably the number one thing that people come to me with are issues with their boss. In fact, I’ve even toyed with the idea of changing up my entire business to be about the boss, just the boss. How you deal with your boss. There is so much good stuff there, that I made it a pillar of my business. It’s going to be something that I’m going to be focusing on a lot. I’m not going to shift my entire business model to the boss. But it is something that I’m going to spend a lot of time on. 

So I’m going to talk about it this week and I’m going to talk about it next week. What I’m going to be talking about today, is I’m actually going to be diving into one of the five simple ideas and getting into some meat around it.  Next week, I’m going to share another one. 

The idea that we’re going to be talking about today is that bosses aren’t always great leaders. I know that doesn’t sound like a huge huge aha. We all know that because we’ve experienced that. But let me say it another way. Being a boss doesn’t mean you have to be a great leader. Those are two separate things – being a boss and being a leader. In fact, I would say that I have met very few really good leaders in my life. All-around great leaders, I’ve met very few of those. But I’ve had a lot of bosses. 

Even as a boss, I wasn’t always a good leader. I was a boss for the majority of my career, so I f**cked it up quite a bit, my friends. There were things I was really good at and there were things I was not so much at. Depending on who you were, if you were reporting to me, you either really got into the things I was good at. Or maybe sometimes you got annoyed with the things that I wasn’t so good at. And that happens a lot.

We have this assumption that if you’re going to be my boss, you somehow have to be this amazingly perfect leader who never makes a mistake. We know that’s just not possible. You might be saying, I don’t expect anyone to be perfect. But you know what? We kind of do. If you’re having a problem with your boss, it’s because a lot of the time, they’re not behaving and showing up as a leader in the way that you want them to show up and behave as a leader. And we’re going to get into that, we’re going to talk about that. 

Because of the odds of you having or requiring a certain leadership style to get the best out of you and then you miraculously get a boss who shows up who actually has that perfect leadership style, it may not always work. You’re going to have to do the work on yourself to be able to adjust versus requiring our boss to adjust. So I want to back up a little bit. I want to talk about why our bosses aren’t all great leaders, because you would think, If you’re going to get promoted to being a boss, you better be good at managing people. But those are two totally different things.

In fact, when I spoke to my friends and colleagues who were still in corporate, and certainly in my experience of corporate, there wasn’t a ton of leadership training. There were all leadership competencies, and there were goalposts about what it meant to be a great leader. But really, learning deep down and being trained how to be a good leader on an ongoing basis was not something that was necessarily offered by organizations, even organizations the size of McDonald’s, which is the one that I worked for. 

Quite often, what happens is, we learn how to be a leader on the job, and a lot of us have had some good teachers, and some not-so-good teachers in terms of leadership styles. It’s all relative based on our own strengths and our own areas for growth. We come across these leaders, and some of some of their stuff rubs off on us and some of it doesn’t. Some of the stuff that rubs off on us is great stuff, or we turn it into great stuff. And some of it isn’t. 

It’s like having parents. You think about some of your personality traits and you’re so thankful that you got certain things from your parents. Other times, you’re like, Ah, I’m being just like my mom here. I can’t believe it. As I get older, I realized that more and more. How much I’m like my mother. So a lot of the time, people are promoted into these positions and they’ve had some uneven training as leaders. But then you’re thinking, Why are they being promoted? Because a lot of the time, people get promoted based on their tenure, based on their ability to get results, and to drive results. 

Organizations will balance that or they’ll balance how much damage are you creating based on the results that you are achieving. They make decisions based on that. The other thing is, a lot of companies these days don’t always want to promote leaders. Sometimes, they just want to have a lot of good followers, like good soldiers doing the work that the ultimate leaders are telling them to do without question. 

I have a friend named Samantha Hurwitz. She’s from Kitchener, Ontario. She runs an organization called FliP U. Her husband is a PhD in Neuroscience and together they have this organization called FliP U. They teach this concept of leadership and followership and how organizations are looking for both of those things. Not always in the same person, but a lot of the time, they are present in every one have us. Sometimes we show up as leaders, sometimes we’re showing up as followers. 

But in some cases, organizations may be looking at some positions as opportunities for followership, let’s call it. They’re looking for good soldiers so people get promoted for all manner of reasons. Sometimes they’re good leaders of people, sometimes they just get good results. Sometimes they’ve just been around long enough, and they ticked all the boxes. Sometimes they’re just really good soldiers and they haven’t ruffled any feathers that have done the job they’ve been asked to do when they get promoted into a position to manage people. It happens. It’s happened to so many people. It may even happen to you, if it hasn’t already.

If we had to wait for everyone to be the ideal leader, before they got promoted, nobody would manage anyone. We’re all learning as we go through this process. The more junior you are, the more you have to learn about how to be a great leader, and you learn it on the job as you’re managing people. So it’s very likely that you’re going to have a boss that is actually not totally skilled at being a fantastically perfect leader. But somehow, we expect our bosses to make less mistakes, while still giving us the room to make mistakes, without beating the crap out of us. It’s a real double standard. A lot of people have it. They don’t give space for their bosses to just be a human being with some authority. The authority coming from experience, the authority coming from being a good soldier, or wherever the authority came from. Your boss has it, but they are still a person trying to figure it out. 

What I want to offer you is give your boss a break. Don’t expect them to have all the answers and make all the right decisions in every situation. Don’t feel like you need to judge them every time they fail. Because each time they fail, just like you, they’re learning something, they’re growing, they’re figuring out how to do it differently. If you were failing on the job, wouldn’t you want the space for someone to be compassionate with you, not judge you, give you the space to fail, give you this understanding when you fail, and help you learn from it so that you can grow? That’s what you want from your boss. So why wouldn’t you give that to them? 

We tend to think and I think it just comes from our upbringing that our parents are smarter than us and our parents have all the answers. So we look to our authority figures for somehow being smarter than us. But they’re not in every case, they just seem to have authority. I don’t know about you, but there was certainly some point in my life and a lot of my friends where you wake up and realize one day that your parents are just human beings. They are just human beings trying to figure it out. And usually, you realize that once you have kids. I didn’t have kids so it took me a little bit longer to realize my parents were human beings. But once you do realize that, you you give them a bit of break, just like you would a friend. 

It’s the same with your boss. They’re just a human being with some authority trying to figure it out. If you switched your mindset to that way of thinking, how would you look at your boss differently? One of the things I talk a lot about on this podcast, and certainly in all my content is your thinking creates your experience. Your boss is a circumstance. Your boss actually has no power over how you think. Whatever they say, even if it’s really personal or a personal attack against you, they can’t control how you think. You get to decide what you think about what they’re saying and what they’re doing. 

So even if your boss says something totally personal, yells at you, and tells you you’re incompetent in whatever way that they want to say that, you get to decide what you think about that comment. You get to decide whether you agree with them that you’re incompetent. You get to decide whether you disagree with them. You get to decide whether what they’re saying to you is right or wrong and how you want to handle it. You get to make all those decisions. 

When you’re thinking intentionally, you’re really focused on how you’re showing up. You can make those decisions in the moment. And when you make those decisions, you create your own experience and you create your own feelings. So if your boss says something really personal to you, like you’re doing a bad job, again, that has no power until you make it mean something to you. And if you make it mean, I’m a failure. I knew someone was going to find out that I really suck at my job. 

If you think that, that’s going to create a feeling for you, and that feeling could be fear. Then you’re going to start taking actions out of fear. You’re going to complain about your boss, you’re going to go home miserable, you’re going to tell your husband what a shitty day you’ve had, you’re going to think that you have the worst boss ever, and on and on. But the fact that you agree with your boss in that circumstance,  and the fact that you said, This is it, I’ve been found out. I do suck at my job. That’s a choice you’re making to think that. You could also think, This is totally inappropriate to be saying this to me. I totally disagree with what you’re saying. I am great at my job. Or you could get curious and think, Hmm, I wonder why they are saying that. I will need to understand their perspective better. 

There are lots of ways that you could handle that situation. And you can do it in stages. You could be upset at first and then get curious. You don’t have to have the exact perfect reaction every time. It’s okay to be sad, it’s okay to be mad. If your boss says something, no one’s telling you you have to be happy about it. What I’m saying to you is that you have to own your reaction and you have to own your experience in that moment. Your boss isn’t making you mad, your boss isn’t making you sad, your boss isn’t making you scared. You are. You are by the way that you’re thinking about what your boss is saying and doing. 

The reason I’m sharing this with you is in the context of the fact that your boss isn’t necessarily the best leader, the more you focus on what’s missing with your boss, like why they’re not a good leader, the more you focus on the fact that you want them to have X leadership qualities, but they have Y leadership qualities, and it’s just not working for you. 

The more you focus on that, the more you’re going to create the experience that you’re not happy in your job. It only hurts you. The more you expect your boss to have all the answers, like if you were thinking to yourself, They’re my boss, they should know better. The more you think thoughts like that, it only hurts you. It doesn’t hurt them. You’re the one accountable for the experience that you’re having with your boss. 

If you blame your boss, if you point your fingers at your boss, if you’re mad at your boss, if you say bad things about your boss, it doesn’t hurt your boss. Your boss doesn’t feel any of that. You’re feeling it in your body. Your judgment becomes your experience of the relationship that you’re having with your boss. And when you’re in this cycle of focusing on what’s missing with your boss, it ultimately ruins your experience. It’s like walking around with rocks in your shoes. You’re walking but you’re wobbly. And every step becomes painful. 

Whereas when you focus on what’s working with your boss, you’re going to see that your feelings change and your actions change. Your experience is going to change and your enjoyment of your job is going to change. II’m not saying you have to go one way or the other. You don’t have to go all sunshine and roses or all misery. What I really want you to recognize is that wherever you go, you are creating the experience. It’s not your boss’s fault. Your boss is just a person like you, trying to figure it out. They have dreams, they have goals, they’re going to make mistakes. And then you get to decide what you’re making all of that mean. 

All that being said, as well, I want you to know that you don’t have to work for every boss. You can leave. What I recommend to you is just to make sure that you are doing all your own work on your mindset, really get underneath what’s going on here? What am I thinking? What’s driving my experience? We go really deep into how you can think differently about your boss and how you can really get underneath what you’re thinking. But make sure you do your work. Don’t just run away because it’s hard. Because the approach that you have with your boss is going to follow you to other jobs.

If you’re someone who’s always focused on what’s missing with your boss, and why your boss isn’t the leader that they’re meant to be, then that bad approach and that type of thinking pattern is going to follow you. So do your work and take a look at it. 

If you discover after exploring your own mindset that your boss is actually the kind of boss that you can find a way to work with, that could work for you for a while, for whatever reason you decide, fantastic. That’s amazing. But if you’ve done the work on your boss and you feel like you still can’t make it work, maybe the values that your boss has just don’t align with your values. If you decide tha, you take a look at it both ways, you see what’s working for them, you see what’s not working for them in your own opinion, and you decide, It’s better for me if I find a situation that serves me better. You can do that. 

Because now you’ve done the work, and you know what you’re looking for. But just make sure that you’re being open to the idea that your boss is some kind of leader. They’re going to be good at some things. That may not be the things that you wanted them to be good at. But does that matter? Maybe there are things that they can teach you that you didn’t know you needed to learn, but hey, what an opportunity to learn them. So do that work. And if you decide to leave, you decide to leave. That’s a decision you might have to make once you do that work. 

But the one thing that you absolutely want to avoid doing is trying to change your boss, because you cannot do that. It’s not because they’re your boss that you can’t do that, it’s because they are another person. They’re not you. You can’t control their thinking. You can’t control how they feel, or what they do. They have freewill and you can’t control them. No matter how much you complain about them, whether it’s behind their back, or to their face, or to their boss, or to HR or whatever, you can’t control your boss. 

So I encourage you to avoid that as one of your strategies for how to manage your situation. It’s going to  be much easier for you to manage your own thinking around your boss, then try to change your boss. Here’s the other thing that I meant to say earlier, but I’m going to say it now. It’s not your boss’s job to make you happy. So often we say, Oh, this boss is making me miserable. This boss is not making you miserable, my friend. Your boss is just doing stuff. And you are creating thoughts that are making you feel miserable. It’s happening in your own head. 

If you want to be happy in your job, you can choose that. You can find the things that are working with your boss, you can focus on building a relationship with your boss, you can figure out how to make it work and take your power back in that relationship, understand where you’re coming from, you could get coaching, you could change jobs. There are so many things you can do to make yourself happy in your job. All of them are in your control. Understand, though, that it’s not your boss’s job to make you happy. Not in the current job you have now, and not in the next job that you’re going to have. Your boss’s job is to drive results through their people. 

If you have a boss that’s a really good leader, then they’re going to stretch you to grow. And they’re going to help you find your own way to those results. That’s what great leaders do. They help you think, they help you evaluate, they help you find solutions. They don’t tell you what to do, they help you grow. They’re going to make you uncomfortable. But if that’s what you want, that’s what good leaders do. They help you grow. 

If you have a boss that’s a follower, they might expect you to be a follower, too. Maybe that’s a skill that you need to learn. It’s going to show up, even if you are the most amazing leader. So if you work at a corporation, there are going to be times when you need to be a really great follower. And there is value to that in your job sometimes, as well. 

If you have a boss that honestly has no idea, which was the case most of the time, where they’re just trying to figure it out, then my recommendation is for you to figure out what’s working. What you could make work with that boss, and take what you can from that situation, or make the decision to leave. But don’t spend your time complaining and whining and be essing and trying to change your boss because that is not going to work. The only change you can control is how you change yourself. 

I want to give you another idea. It’s like an idea within an idea. People are mirrors. We all are mirrors. We reflect the information we are given. So if someone comes at you angry, we either get angry back, or we flee the situation. We’re reacting to the situation that’s presented to us. If your husband yells at you, maybe you yell back at your husband. If your husband yells at you, maybe you go and yell at your kids or you go to work and you yell at one of your reports or you yell at the guy who cuts you off in traffic. 

We’re reflecting the information that we’re given. So, if you spend the time finding things that you can truly appreciate about your boss, focusing on what’s working with your boss, supporting your boss, and getting your mind right about your boss, then the likelihood that you get that back from them is pretty darn good, my friends. It goes back to Gandh – Be the change. And that’s the truth. Be the change that you want to see. 

The more you’re that way with your boss, the more you’re listening to them and doing the things that they need you to do, and giving them the benefit of the doubt and not expecting perfection from them, they’re going to give you that back. It may not be exactly the way that you serve it up, but you’re going to get something back that’s going to make your experience even easier to deal with. 

Like I said, you don’t need to change your boss to have a good relationship with them, you just need to change you. You can totally change the relationship on your own. You don’t need your boss involved to make that relationship much better for you and make that experience much better for you. 

Here are the key takeaways. Number one. It doesn’t matter if your boss is a good leader or even a good boss, you get to decide what you make that mean and what you want to take away from that. Number two. Bosses aren’t always promoted into boss positions because they’re good leaders. There are lots of reasons people are bosses and it’s not because they’re perfect leaders. 

Number three. Your boss is a human being. Giving them space to be a human being is going to make their life and your life a hell of a lot easier when you’re not expecting perfection from your boss. Number four. People mirror the behaviors that are served up to them. So take that understanding and decide what you want to mirror to your boss. Number five. It’s a waste of time to try and change your boss, it’s way easier to change you. I’m not saying it’s easy to change you. It’s not easy to change your thoughts. 

I always recommend getting help when you’re digging into your brain for the first time. It is possible for you to dig in there on your own. It’s not easy, but it is easier and a way better return on effort than trying to change your boss. It’s also easier and a way better return on effort than being miserable all day long or trying to find another job, like focus on what’s going on in your head and how you are creating your own experience. 

The idea I share with you today is actually the number three simple idea to turn your bad boss into your best boss. Tthere are five ideas in total and tday’s was number three. Next week, I’m going to share another one. And when it comes to bosses, we could all use some insight to help make our days better. I know I had some shit-ass bosses, totally bad bosses. 

That is all I have for you this week, my friends. Thank you for joining me if you liked this podcast, and I asked that you go and give me a rating on your podcast player. Please rate the podcast and leave me a review. I’d love to know what you’re thinking on what you want to hear more about.

I appreciate you, my friends. Have a fantastic week.



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I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.

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Mel Savage

I have 20+ years working as a leader in the corporate world. I know what you need to do. And I combine that with four years of training as a cognitive behavioral coach. I know how to help you naturally think like the leader you want to be.
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