The woman sat across from me over breakfast in a local diner. I had asked her to meet me before work to discuss what had happened at a corporate event last week: she drank too much and told a client that I was ruining the company. I thought about this conversation the entire weekend. I wanted to be firm but caring. If this woman had a drinking problem, the company would provide the support she needed. However, I would be clear that her behavior was inappropriate and could not, would not be tolerated!
I started my well-practiced speech when she interrupted me with, “I hate working for women. At least with men you know where you stand. I’ve never had a male boss lie about me because he was jealous.”
Cue eye roll. No, I did not fire her on the spot. But her attitude – though maybe not her explanation for it – is common among men and women. Survey after survey documents that both men and women prefer to work for male bosses. The explanations are as varied as the academics and researchers offering them, ranging from psychodynamic theories of managers as substitute parents with the father figure in charge, to theorists arguing that if women had more actual power in the workplace they would be less likely to over-control whatever small territory they have, the essence of petty bureaucrats.
In my youth I have been an equal opportunity complainer. I had the male boss who used to make me watch him read. I had the female boss who was a hot mess, barely got to work on time and corrected everything I wrote with a green pen. I had the male boss who, as I walked into work late for the first time ever Monday morning after I moved over the weekend (seven months pregnant) said to me, “I hope this isn’t going to be a habit.”
But I’ve had incredible bosses of both genders and sometimes they’ve been the same ones I’ve complained about. What makes an individual a good boss? How can an employee learn from his or her boss, albeit one who is imperfect? Here are the things that I think managers should remember:
- To be a good boss you really need to be open to looking at yourself. Understand how your own issues are getting in your way. That means looking at your own biases, too. You have them.
- Seek out feedback. It’s hard enough to get honest feedback and harder still the higher you go. Make it a priority.
- Be brave and honest. Often the best you can give an employee is the truth. Sometimes that might mean the employee – and the company – would be better off without one another.
- That seems obvious doesn’t it? But I am always surprised by how many companies don’t really tell their employees where the company is heading and how each employee fits. I’d rather hear bad news than be kept in the dark.
- Seek to bring out the best in people.
- Be clear about your own values. Make sure your management styles honors those values.
- Recognize when your own well is dry. Take a break.
Your manager is imperfect. How do you make the most of this work experience?
- Remember that the organization doesn’t love you back. That means you should not get your feelings hurt when you don’t feel appreciated. It’s your responsibility to help management see what you contribute.
- Learn how to talk about your accomplishments without sounding overbearing.
- So many people do good work and wait for that work to get recognized. Good work is a necessary but insufficient condition for career advancement. You need to learn about your industry, your competitors, and your organization and you need to show the initiative to do that all on your own.
- Ask for feedback frequently but not in a way that makes you seem like you’re fishing for compliments. I suggest that, after projects are completed, employees ask their manager and coworkers to answer these four questions:
- What was something I did well?
- What was something I should stop doing?
- What should I have done more of?
- What should I have done less of?
I like working for good managers. I’ve been lucky to have quite a few. But I’ve learned that nobody’s perfect, regardless of gender.
“Ring the bells that still can ring; forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” — Leonard Cohen
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I really liked this post both as a woman who often is the boss and one who often has had female bosses. I have been fascinated by women in power. How much we overlook in men and how little in women. There are real issues about using it that seem to me maybe no win. But we all need to forge on.