Darryl Stewart
By Darryl Stewart

What to do if you feel your boss is holding you back

Most of us were brought up to wait:  wait for a good, generous, engaging, tasteful, smart boss to tell us what to do.

One way to handle it when this does not happen is to blame the system, blame the boss, and blame the world.  If the boss doesn’t see or understand your insight, that’s his fault. You are here to serve, and if they don’t get it, well, that’s too bad for all concerned.

What you might consider: Lead up.

green arrow forward traffic light
Photo by Yogendra Joshi cc

A great manager gets great team performance because she deserves it. One of the ways that she became a great manager was by leading her team to make their own good decisions, to do things on their own initiative, to have the confidence to do what they think is right and the guidance to be right almost all the time.  That doesn’t happen randomly. It happens when someone leads up.

A successful middle manager gets promoted when she takes the right amount of initiative, defers the right amount of credit and orchestrates success. That success might happen despite (not because of) who her bosses are, and that’s just fine, because she’s leading up.

We have an astonishing amount of freedom at work. Not just the freedom to call meetings, make phone calls and pitch ideas, but yes, the freedom to quit, to find a new gig, to pick the work we’re going to take on and to decide how we’re going to deal with a request from someone who seems to have far more power than we do. “Yes, sir” is one possible answer, but so is leading from below, creating a reputation and an environment where the people around you are transformed into the bosses you deserve.

When you do this with intention, it gets easier and easier. From afar, it seems impossible, and it will be until you commit to it.

  • Do it on purpose
  • Tell stories that resonate with those in charge
  • Demand responsibility, don’t worry about authority
  • Reflect credit, embrace blame
  • Earn the right by taking small steps
  • Convene, organize, learn, teach and lay the foundation
  • If they don’t get it, go somewhere that does, regardless of the fee

Shout out to my new friends at Community Living Essex.  Thanks for hosting Engage! last week.

This blog was inspired by and heavily borrowed from a blog by Seth Godin