By Leslie Boomer
The Big, Bad Boss…there’s a characterization that’s likely to make anyone shudder. Whether you’re an employee living in fear of the boss or you’re that boss, neither is a good situation. Consider this:
- Frightened employees don’t have much chance to get what they want or need if they’re afraid to talk to the boss.
- A boss may subscribe to the theory that no news is good news, and that if someone wants or needs something they’ll ask for it.
So there it is…the mindset that’s found in too many organizations. If it weren’t such a serious problem, it would be laughable. We love to watch a red-faced Donald Trump holler, “You’re fired!” on “The Apprentice,” but somehow that isn’t the scenario we’re looking for in real life. Yet it can be a real fear in the workplace. The solution may be a simple one, but it definitely requires employee courage and for management to take time to look for something to fix - even if it doesn’t appear broken.
Looking at each perspective
Insecurity in the workplace discourages innovation, imagination and desire.
Workers are sometimes afraid to try something new to make an established process better. They fear making a mistake or looking foolish. They may be afraid to ask permission just to hear, “No, do what you were told!” Rather than take a risk, they clam up or move on.
Bosses are often unaware that they’re scaring off the worker or discouraging people from trying something new. If things are going OK, they might be sticking with what’s tried and true, knowing the job will get done.
Step out of your comfort zone
Employees. Have an idea? Take a chance! Odds are you won’t get canned for asking a question or suggesting that the company try something new. If you implement a new technique, but it fails and the boss rails at you for trying, maybe you’re not working for the right company.
Bosses. Open up a little. Ask your team if they have ideas to share. Encourage efforts to be creative, even when there are failures. The best ideas often come from failed attempts.
Silence creates uncertainty, leaving people to assume the worst.
It’s hard to build trust without interactions that consistently show care and concern. Checking in with people to let them know you’re interested in their work is easy to do without making anyone feel micromanaged. When you don’t, you risk something like this scenario:
You come into your office and find a letter of resignation from one of your best employees - a reliable worker who has been great for your growing company and you value his contributions. You’ve left him alone, given him free rein. Why would he quit? During the separation interview you express your surprise and this is what you hear:
“No offense, but I’m surprised you even care. I mean…yeah, I’ve been making good money, but I feel like the Lone Ranger here. I had questions, but it seemed like everyone was too busy to talk. I was frustrated and scared to say anything. When this guy offered me a chance to work as part of a team I jumped at it. If I had known how you felt I wouldn’t be leaving, but now it’s too late.”
After all, it’s a partnership
We all have a role to play in open, honest and productive communication. For employees, it’s a good idea to put on your grown-up pants and courteously ask for what you want and need at work. No one will know what you want or need if you don’t ask. For bosses, consider being secure enough in your authority to welcome and even encourage open communication. Be interested in the people that report to you. The only thing at risk is remaining a frightened worker or being branded as the big, bad boss.
- For employees, it’s a good idea to courteously ask for what you want and need at work. No one will know what you want or need if you don’t ask.
- For bosses, consider being secure enough in your authority to welcome and even encourage open communication. Be interested in the people that report to you.
Leslie Boomer is an organizational health consultant with Pro-Motion Consulting.