When things don’t go according to plan, it can be very frustrating to figure out what’s missing. As a director, handling performance issues for a member of your team is very different from handling a performance issue with your leader.
Managing down seems to be less difficult, since directors get more practice with performance issues. Managing up can be awkward however—a virtual political minefield and perhaps career limiting.
Consider Dylan’s situation: His division was acquired by another firm. The merger did not include his boss, so Dylan now reported to the VP of Marketing, who tended to stay quite aloof from him. They had some interaction, but he was excluded from some key discussions and meetings.
It took Dylan a while to determine what was missing, because he had no prior experience with this kind of leader. Being excluded irked him, and he began to realize that he was working for someone who didn’t have his best interests at heart or recognize the value he brought to the business.
So what do you do when it’s your leader who is hindering your efforts?
You can do three things to align what is right for you, your role and the business. The alignment will help reduce frustration and direct your efforts to where it matters most.
First, you need to identify what is triggering you. In Dylan’s case, he was being excluded and undervalued, which he had little experience with, but once he realized this, he could decide what his next steps needed to be.
Second, you need to determine if it is just you or if others are treated this way. In Dylan’s case, he was the only one, so this fact indicated that something about him or his role affected his VP in some way.
Third, you need to talk with your leader and determine whether or not you can support the business strategy. Prepare carefully for this meeting. It is important for you to have a clear head and learn as much as you can to help plan your next steps.
Can you work together?
If you support the strategy, probe for ways you can use your experience and expertise. If you don’t support the strategy, you may need to decide whether you should go or stay so that you keep your skills and reputation intact.
Sometimes, a situation like this can help you fill in a gap in your experience. You may not always have the full support of a leader in the future, so there is value in being able to identify what is missing and why.
We can’t fix someone else, but we can change our reaction and respond appropriately. It may not feel so great to work for a boss who doesn’t support your efforts, but that doesn’t have to undermine your effectiveness.
When you do what is right for your role and for the business, your reputation will remain intact. It can be a significant learning experience that will serve you well in future. Plus, the street will hear the real story one day.
Share your experience with us. Have you had an experience like this? How did you handle it? What has it done to your leadership capabilities?