Managing a Tone-Deaf Boss Can Feel Like Riding a Cow…

The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough

 

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Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.

 

Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:

  • Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
  • Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
  • Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
  • Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)

Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.

Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.

 

Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:

Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.

  • Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.

Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.

  • Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.

Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators.  An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.

  • Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.

 

A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.

 

Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve

 

Watch the complimentary webinar: Difficult Workplace Conversations