Some of the more frustrating workplace experiences are those that involve (what appears to be) bosses making bad decisions. They agree to too much without considering the impact on their team, they adopt new procedures without fully understanding the problem, or they seem to change their mind like the wind, leaving others confused about strategy.
I once had a boss that seemed to avoid decision-making altogether. I often felt like I was “left hanging” on some of my work because the decision to go right or go left was unmade. I rarely took time to understand him, rather I rolled my eyes and silently thought, “The dude has no backbone.”
Overall, I wasn’t very helpful. I lacked the skills and perspective to consider the pressures and implications of his role. Instead, I let his (perceived) indecisiveness irritate me. I wasted a lot of time complaining about it too. Yes, my boss owned some of this. He could have communicated better, shared more of his experience, and even asked me for ideas. But he didn’t.
All that said, every boss wants a team that supports them, and I would argue that a direct report’s role is to not only do this (support them) but help make their boss’s job easier. I learned this quickly once I became a manager myself. It’s a team, after all. Each player has a role that contributes to a common goal and purpose. If all players aren’t aligned to the goal, they simply won’t win.
But let’s be real, if you report to a manager who makes bad decisions (or is indecisive), it’s frustrating and annoying. How do you keep a focus on the team when the leader seems incompetent or out of touch? More importantly, how do you remain effective so as not to contribute to a downgrade in team performance?
Don’t Make a FAE
The Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE) is when we attribute personality flaws, lack of motivation, or other behavior traits as the primary reasons for someone’s actions rather than legitimate context or circumstances. This is what I did with my boss. I thought he lacked backbone or the strength to make decisions.
Here’s the problem, if I am the one being indecisive, I don’t tell myself that I lack a backbone, rather I am able to explain a legitimate reason for it. Such as, I lack the information needed or am too swamped with other work to decide. This is an error because when others behave in ways we don’t like, we blame, but when we behave the same way, we give benefit of the doubt.
I didn’t do this with my boss, rather I blamed his personality and thus let that irritation compromise my own effectiveness and, if I’m being honest, the effectiveness of our team. Start noticing if you commit this error. If you’re human, you do it regularly and it is likely contributing to some short-sightedness about your boss or your team. Read on to learn how to break out of it.
Consider Multiple Perspectives
I used to teach a class called Managing Up that was about how to get the best results with your boss and their boss. There was an empathy exercise in the class that turned on lightbulbs for the students. The activity asked participants to write answers to the following:
When is your boss at their best? What are they doing?
What stresses them and what annoys them?
What pressure are they under?
Who do they report to and what is that relationship like?
What is the leadership environment like (supportive vs antagonistic, volatile vs stable, political vs collegial, ambiguous vs certain, etc.) or how do senior leaders treat each other?
How do the answers to these questions influence the way you will work with your boss in the future?
When participants spent 20 minutes on this exercise, their perspectives shifted. They saw their boss differently and even saw the work environment differently. Many said, “I have never considered any of this before.”
When your boss makes a decision you disagree with, take a step back and consider multiple perspectives from varying angles. New insight will certainly emerge that will impact how you and your team move forward.
Focus on the Goal
A friend who is in a leadership role shared something insightful recently. Her boss made a decision that didn’t sit well with her, so she asked herself, “Is this indeed a bad decision or do I disagree with it because it’s not the decision I would make? We’re still getting the result we want, after all.”
This is common, a focus on process over results. My friend was focusing on process, the decision. While the decision led the team to take a route she would not have taken, the decision her boss made still got them the results they were looking for. They met their goal in a positive and productive way. Not only was my friend’s thought process insightful, but it helped her stay focused on the big picture.
All teams are striving toward meeting a goal and getting results and there are often countless ways to get there. Remaining focused on the goal of the work helps soften those less desirable decisions.
Be the direct report you would want to have. This means to offer help or support to your boss. Looks for ways to take something off their plate or demonstrate curiosity for what they do. Some bosses make bad decisions because they simply lack the skills and experience to do so. It’s not intentional, rather it’s a symptom.
By being a support to your boss, trust builds, and opportunities arise to share your perspective on the work and influence your boss’s decision-making. Sometimes, teams are able to mentor their managers by inviting them into their own work experience. This is only possible with supportive and helpful relationships within the team.
Disagreeing with decisions at work is almost a guarantee. In some ways, it’s the beauty of diverse individuals coming together to work toward a common goal. However, without some strategies and perspective, the disagreement can become a distraction, even an obstacle. It keeps us from getting the results we want. Avoiding FAE’s, demonstrating empathy, focusing on the goal, and offering help will go a long way to maintain to your performance in face of decision disagreement. But, it will also likely help the performance of the whole team.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training, coaching, and professional development resources.