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Hope for a great boss, but be realistic

Hope for a great boss, but be realistic
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First Published: Mon, Mar 09 2009. 01 15 AM IST

Updated: Mon, Mar 09 2009. 10 55 AM IST
Is it wrong to have high expectations of one’s boss in terms of knowledge, wisdom and integrity?
—Chris Tay, Beijing, China
Your question brings back a funny memory. A few years ago, back when we were writing our first book together, we hit a real roadblock while discussing the section that was to cover “managing” a lousy boss. One of us thought a few paragraphs would do. Bad bosses are few and far between, went the case, because their organizations tend to toss them out in due course. The other insisted that bad bosses—people who manipulate, confuse and even torment employees—were much more prevalent and deserved more ink. Unable to agree, we decided to put the question to a group of 20-odd friends we were going to see at a party that night.
Click here to watch video
Guess which point of view prevailed? Yes, virtually every one of our friends had a story about a close encounter with a manager (or two or three) who had disappointed them in some way. One friend described a boss who never said what she was really thinking. Another recalled a boss who made an art form of belittling employees in meetings.
But we don’t want to excoriate bosses. We both know from experience that a great boss can change your life, inspiring you to reach new heights both professionally and personally, and energizing you and your team to together overcome challenges bigger than any one of you could handle alone.
Such experiences are wonderful, and luckily, not all that rare. But in answer to your question—should you expect them?—we suggest that it’s probably more reasonable to only hope for a great boss, and more realistic to expect the following instead:
1. It’s reasonable to expect your boss to provide two candid performance appraisals a year that make it absolutely clear how you’re doing relative to your peers and in terms of your ambitions.
Your boss may galvanize your team to deliver stellar results. But no boss is doing his job properly if he’s not letting each of his people know where they stand, and in meaningful, constructive detail. So even if you’d rather live without frank, biannual performance evaluations—and admittedly, the idea does makes some uncomfortable—you are well within your rights to ask for them.
2. It’s reasonable to expect your boss to avoid playing favourites.
Very few things have the power to enervate an organization like a boss who has an in-crowd and an out-crowd like one of the “mean girls” in middle school. This invariably spawns politicking among colleagues who need to trust each other in order to share information, generate ideas or simply get anything done. So if your boss is poisoning your workplace with favouritism, you shouldn’t chalk it up to business as usual. It’s not.
3. It’s reasonable to expect your boss to stand by you in your hour of need.
We have a friend we’ll call Carol, whose boss once asked her to present a proposal at a meeting with the organization’s executive team. Carol dutifully complied, but when the executives baulked at the proposal, so did Carol’s boss, throwing up her hands as though it annoyed her no end. Such “I don’t know you” behaviour is the hallmark of a manager who feels that his position is vulnerable—or a manager who is just a plain jerk.
4. It’s reasonable to expect your boss to deliver outsized rewards for outsized performance.
We realize that it may sound crazy to talk about “outsized” compensation in recessionary times. But every good boss understands how important— and how motivating—this differentiation is, and very good bosses refuse to resort to the old line others haul out during a downturn: “You were terrific, but this is all I could get for you from upstairs.”
5. Finally, and certainly most important, it’s reasonable to expect your boss to demonstrate integrity.
It’s awful to go to work each day wondering whether your boss is shading the truth, adding spin to his real beliefs or violating company values. So hold tight to this expectation. And if you feel it ebbing, you may need to ask yourself whether it’s time to move on.
That said, we understand that we’re in an economic period when beggars—read: most employees—can’t be choosers about their bosses. We also know how much a boss can affect your quality of life.
Bottom line, then: Go ahead and hope for the best, but prepare yourself to be satisfied with reality—and reasonable expectations.
Write to Jack & Suzy
Jack and Suzy are eager to hear about your career dilemmas and challenges at work, and look forward to answering some of your questions in future columns. Jack and Suzy Welch are the authors of the international best-seller,Winning. Their latest book is Winning: The Answers: Confronting 74 of the Toughest Questions in Business Today. Mint readers can email them questions at winning@livemint.com. Please include your name, occupation and city. Only select questions will be answered.
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First Published: Mon, Mar 09 2009. 01 15 AM IST