For as long as I can remember, almost always I am highly deferential with a boss — or an antagonist. It happens — but it is rare — that I have normal or healthy relationship with my boss, but more often than not I feel discomfort in disagreeing or befriending a boss, and when I lose respect for them I simply ignore them. Best case? It’s that special boss who recognizes my exceptional work ethic and analytic skills and just lets me run with my job without interference. Once a boss no longer is my boss (due to reorgs, someone leaving the company, etc.), my awkwardness goes away and I no longewr feel any discomfort towards them. In eseence, it is their power over my career that generates the odd feelings in me. Luckily, though, I think most of my bosses have always liked me for the very reason I am independent and hard working without their having to watch over me.
So why is this, that I feel awkward towards bosses? I think it’s because I have a very strong willed mother, and there were a lot of rules that — if broken, even accidentally — meant more often than an extended yell fest. When I was younger, I yelled back, but eventually, in my 20s, I got tired of yelling so stopped. But the residual dread of having someone lording over me was already etched into me.
Ironically, this fear also makes me a better leader/manager – it means I take efforts to build collaboration and safety within my team, and retain an emotional intelligence on what it means to be the employee, and the results of this saftey and collaboration have spoken for themselves (most recently, turned the worset office in the 20-office region into the #2 office in a mere 2 quarters).
Most often, it hasn’t been a problem with my career – I am usually a highly-productive and independent employee, and most of my direct managers have liked and respected me. The one exception was last year, when following a reorg I was assigned to a highly controlling, not very talented and rutlhess boss in a highly demanding job where it was generally impossible to meet expectations and he fired almost 80% of his management year over year. The long hours where I invested a lot in my team combined with my own responsibilities reduced my ability to find an exit strategy (another job), which meant so much of my time was spent pandering to him and trying to avoid being fired. It was awful. In the end, it didn’t work, and to be honest I resent him for it.
(Confession: Last week I found myself walking in front of an airport gate where the destination was Dulles, where my crazy ex-boss lives. I scanned the crowd waiting for that flight, privately hoping to see him, knowing that if I did I was going to go out of my way to aggressvily walk through him so that he fell over but not without my raising a hand. Just my thinking this tells me how much I detest that man. The last time I did something like that was just after college, over 25 years ago, when at a Rose Bowl party another guy got jealous over a girl paying attention to me, even though I was just starting to date my wife and had no interest in anyone else; but the boy kept approaching me, touching my face and saying, “Why are you so interested in this pretty boy?” to the young woman. I didn’t mind his comments — I was above his opinion of me and often took “pretty boy” as a compliment — but didn’t like his touching me. I warned him once, and when he did it a second time I pushed him backward until he fell over a chair. “I told you to stop,” I said. And just like that, the issue was over… For me, the issue with my ex-boss isn’t that he didn’t treat his people well, it was that he was a bully – he held the livelihood of my family in his control at a time when I still privaely battle chronic fatigue, which precluded my ability to address his madness in a way I wanted to. So now that he no longeer has that kind of control, I relish the idea of punishing him a little bit. I honestly think he migth be the only person in the world that I think that way about, but he was like working for Henry VIII. Of course, the reality is I probably would have ignored him, and if he noticed me told him to leave me alone, that I didn’t have to bother with him again ever again, and that he was lucky I didn’t punch him. Still, it is nice to day dream a little bit. :)).