Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Give Your Boss A Break

Employees do all the work and bosses don't do much, right? (Cover from coverbrowser.com. Check out the site!)

Does this situation sound familiar? An employee goes home and the spouse or a friend asks, “How was work today?” Employee replies:

“It was great! I’m lucky to have a really incredible boss! I can learn so much that I catch myself hanging on every word. What a fabulous example of hard work, brilliance and great human relations skills! My boss corrected my work several times today and I was truly grateful for the opportunity to gain some new knowledge. Wow!”

If that doesn’t sound familiar it probably is because it doesn’t happen often, if ever.  Almost everyone occasionally wishes for a better manager or supervisor–some of you may be wishing for that right now!  Ironically, supervisors and managers who complain the most about the stubbornness and disrespect of those they supervise, are often the most stubborn and disrespectful about their own managers and supervisors.

I’m not suggesting that you have a spectacular boss or that you are not a great employee.  However, it might be worthwhile to consider why it seems you find many flaws in the character, performance and behavior of your supervisor or manager–the person who, unbelievably, is making more money than you are and has been given control over you and others.

1. Bosses and subordinates have relationships that naturally tend to be in conflict. There is an inherent resistance to having another adult control any aspect of our lives, even when we know it is part of the job description. Maybe there is a bit of the feeling of being treated like a child and we resist our manager’s parent role. One way to feel more positively about your boss is to consider what part of your feelings are based on resenting having anyone tell you what to do or having to seek approval when you think you are capable of making decisions on your own.

2. You don’t really know what your boss is supposed to do or what your boss does.My friend, Art Hutchison, former police chief, said he never knew as much about being a chief of police as he did when he was an officer with a couple of years on the job.  He knew less and less as he gained rank. Finally, when he became the chief he figured he had better ask a cop with a couple of years on the job about how to run the place, since, based on their comments, they obviously knew just how to do it. 

You have your work and your manager or supervisor has work as well. The difference is that your manager or supervisor  is being held responsible for your work and the work of others–that creates a bit more pressure. Try just focusing on your own work instead of wondering why your manager can leave early but you can’t or why he or she has made a decision that seems so clearly idiotic. Keep repeating that: “I’m going to focus on my own work until it’s practically perfect.”

3. You want your bosses to be better than you are and when they are not, it’s disappointing and irritating. We have many excuses for why we misspoke, were in a bad mood, failed to get something done, are burned out, etc. etc.  We usually don’t consider those excuses when we are frustrated or irritated with our managers or supervisors. That is made worse by the fact that we have read and heard so much about leadership greatness that we have wishes and expectations that would be almost impossible for anyone to fulfill. 

The truth is that if your boss was General George Patton, Ernest Shackleton, Napoleon, Attila the Hun, John F. Kennedy or Lee Iacocca, you’d find something to complain out–and you’d be correct, from your perspective. They weren’t super-human and neither is your boss–and neither are you. The next time you feel critical, think of a time when someone has criticized you for a similar thing or something else–but you had a good reason.

4. It’s hard to accept that your boss is acceptable to others.  A common lament is, “Why do they tolerate such a bad manager?” It’s hard to accept that others may see the manager differently. Often the manager is viewed by higher levels as getting the job done acceptably. The fact that employees aren’t happy isn’t part of the equation. In addition, higher management may feel that the complaints of employees are not justified, so they do not find fault with the boss.

Frequently there are other employees who like the boss–those are the ones that the complaining employees refer to as apple polishers or less polite terms. The truth is, not everyone sees your boss in the same way you do. It’s maddening sometimes, but it’s true! Ask yourself what the higher management team finds acceptable or valuable about your boss. You may get some ideas for what others might find valuable in you.

5. The flaws of your boss get in your way. This is aligned to the idea of resisting control, but with a twist. It’s bad enough to have a boss at all–that’s a pain in the neck sometimes. However, to have a boss who seems to drag you down and keep you from succeeding and feeling good–that’s really difficult to deal with.

Most of us would welcome a boss who admires and respects us, makes us into heroes and helps us accomplish great things. Unfortunately, it seems we’re stuck with a boss who acts retired in place or who is building an empire on our backs or who likes someone better than us or something else that isn’t likely to lead to our personal goals.

It may be those flaws are genuine and maybe you aren’t going to fly so high as you will when you have a different manager or supervisor.  However,  even bad bosses or those who dislike you will value you and help make your work life better if you are working effectively at your own work and not being a continual squeaky wheel. Those wheels sometimes get grease but sometimes they get removed and replaced. (And never doubt that all of your complaints are being heard at some level.)

Be the kind of person and employee you wish your boss would be. 

  • Do you wish your boss was a stronger leader, more knowledgeable, easier to get along with or better at the work? Those may be easy areas for someone with your personality or experience.  Instead, think of what traits, knowledge and skills others have hinted–or told you directly–you need to develop or show more often. Work on those until you have gained them and use them consistently. That will keep you busy!
  • Do you wish your boss communicated more effectively with you? Work at communicating more effectively with your boss and with others you haven’t been doing so well with lately.
  • Do you think your boss isn’t accomplishing much? List the specific and significant things you have accomplished above and beyond your regular work. If you don’t have many things on the list, you can assume there are some who think you don’t do much either. Resolve to solve a problem, do something creative, clear up a conflict, or make a significant difference in the workplace.
  • Do you wish your boss appreciated how hard you try? You know what to do about that as it relates to your manager or supervisor.

Start having a day a week you can call, “Give The Boss A Break Day”. On at least that day, try to be your boss’s most sympathetic and supportive employee. Then, see if you can increase the time.  Your boss may not be deserving of your loyalty and support–and you may not be able to become his or her loyal supporter in every case. However,  you’ll find you enjoy work more when you work with–not against–your manager or supervisor. Besides, your boss may be better than you think.

If you responded to that last line with a sarcastic statement like, “My boss would HAVE to be better than I think”,  go sit in the corner.

July 20th, 2009 Posted by | Life and Work, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 8 comments


  1. These are some great ideas for me. Thank you!

    Comment by Cara S. | July 21, 2009

  2. Could I start with Give the Boss A Break hour? A day is more than I can do at first.

    Comment by Wiseacre | July 21, 2009

  3. I couldn’t agree with you more on everything and I’m not a boss….yet. I hear people griping all the time who have no room to talk at all. They don’t even try to understand why our manager might do certain things. I’ve already said if I get promoted I’ve got to work somewhere else because I know there would be problems here!

    I love the photo of the road in the trees that you have for the post about Michael Jackson’s death. Danni Hunter

    Comment by Danielle Hunter | July 22, 2009

  4. Hello, I wanted to say that the one part I really agree with is #2, although I agree with all the points. I work as an admin to a Division Chief and people have no idea how hard he works! I’ve worked for three Division Chiefs and they all have worked hard but not to hear the people below them talk about it. The current one used to complain about the one before him so I remind him of that sometimes. Now he realizes how wrong he was!

    Comment by B. N. | July 22, 2009

  5. Tina says: Thanks to all of you for your comments. I’ve gotten several emails from bosses who felt that to comment would just seem self-serving. But let me quote one of them:

    “Sometimes I get demoralised when I see a Dilbert cartoon with my name written above the idiot boss’s head. Maybe I’m supposed to be so tough it doesn’t bother me, but I have to admit it does.”

    Rudeness and cruelty has the same result no matter who it is applied to. Shame on anyone who would purposely do things to hold someone up to cruel ridicule. (That’s why I don’t even like political cartoons that pinpoint specific people.) So, maybe it goes past giving the boss a break–maybe we should apply that to everyone!

    Comment by TLR | July 22, 2009

  6. RE: #3 point. I think we hold bosses to higher standards because they’re getting paid more and they act like they know it all. I hear what you’re saying, but most people who get promoted in my work got it because they were friends of somebody. If they can’t handle it they should give it up.

    Comment by Dilbert | July 23, 2009

  7. I’ve been on both sides a couple of times and I think you’re right about this subject. It’s so much easier being an employee than a manager that I decided to stick with being an employee until I retire. The manager who followed me was the most popular employee in the office and now she’s the most disliked one, for no reason I can see except that now she is the boss.

    The Sad Sack comic cover brought back memories. I had a collection of Sarge, which was a spin-off of Sad Sack. I also had Beetle Bailey, which is similar in approach.

    Comment by William K.Young | July 27, 2009

  8. Tina says: Thank you “Dilbert” and Bill, for your comments. My emails had a variety of perspectives as well. That’s always interesting!

    Comment by TLR | July 27, 2009

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