I am ready for the road less traveled
Suiting up for my crowning battle
This test is my own cross to bear
But I will get there.
– Katy Perry, Who Am I Living For?
In his book Rules for Revolutionaries, Guy Kawasaki famously advises “don’t let the bozos grind you down.” He goes on to say that it is easy to ignore some bozos when they are clearly losers. The tough part, he continues, is to ignore the bozos who are successful, influential or powerful. I want to add another set: those who may manage, direct or coach us.
We all want to please others in our life. It is completely human. Our natural instincts are to avoid conflict and seek harmony – especially when it comes to dealing with someone we perceive as influential, powerful or in a “superior” position to us. The problem arises when that person becomes critical, disapproving or negative with regard to our performance or even our personality traits. Over the years, I have seen the damage and stress caused when the relationship between superior and subordinate is not in harmony. For many, it goes much deeper because that disapproval fosters the dangerous pull of self-doubt.
When there is ongoing tension between you and your coach, supervisor, manager, boss etc., it generally indicates a disconnect between their expectations and your performance. They want a certain result and feel that you are not delivering. These cases should be self-evident. If you are a sales person, your sales may not be as high as they would like. If you are in social media, perhaps you aren’t tweeting or blogging enough. Their expectations may or may not be reasonable or realistic, but in these situations, the objectives are quantifiable and you are either achieving them or you are not. The source of tension is easy to determine as is the fix: improve your performance, negotiate different objectives, or move on to another position.
This post is not about whether or not their expectations are realistic or about reconciling their expectations with yours. There are far too many variables. This post is about those times in life when we have to endure the “bozos.” Moments when we can’t really run away; our options may be limited, and we just have to push through. I want to focus on what you can control relative to your own state of mind in situations in which you need to endure brief or extended disconnects with your “superior.” Cases in which it may not be crystal clear why you are not meeting their expectations or there seems to be a personality conflict. In these situations, it is easy to say that they are ignorant. That they don’t understand you. That they are not equal to the task of helping you be the best that you can be. However, that doesn’t help anything. If they are truly ignorant and inept, then there is nothing you can do about it. If you continually tell yourself that they are inept, then you only pull yourself down into the frustration and darkness of a hopeless situation.
On the other hand, it doesn’t help your sense of self to put on a smiley face and act as if they are right and you are wrong every time in order to get along. If you simply grin and bear it, then you feel that you are lying to yourself and letting someone else win – you are setting yourself up to be a victim. Let’s face the facts:
- You are smart, focused and capable.
- You work hard and want to do your best.
- You FEEL that you are doing the right things to the best of your ability.
If items 2-3 above are NOT true, then you should stop here and fix those first. You will likely see immediate changes in your work life. Best of luck!
So, how do you reconcile your feelings and desires with those things that your management/leadership does that you can’t control? To that question, I ask another: Who are you living for? This is YOUR life. This is YOUR career. Not your managers’. YOURS. They are players in your game. Until you find a way to let go of trying to live their expectations and focus on living your expectations, you are going to feel this frustration. That is not a criticism – it is just the reality. You have to approach your life as you want it, play it as you know how and let go of the fear, doubt and frustration of everything associated with trying to please someone else – especially when they are a bozo.
How do you do this? First of all, it is likely that your management is not completely inept or incapable and is simply trying to get the most our of you. Their approach may not be ideal, but they probably think that their technique is the proper way to push you to perform at a higher level. It also doesn’t necessarily mean you are performing poorly. It is quite possible that by trying to read their minds to meet their expectations or allowing micromanagement to get in your head, you may be undermining your performance.
The simplest examples I have seen for the syndrome described above involve athletes. The best athletes are instinctive performers. They have honed their skills through repetition and perform their best when they are NOT over-analyzing it. Problems occur when they are micromanaged from the sideline and proceed to be distracted by it; they end up thinking too much instead of just playing their game. If you’ve got a micromanager trying to control results by controlling everyone’s details, you’ve got a recipe for poor results. You can’t change their style but you can control your response. Recognize it first then act on it.
Ultimately, they win if you are successful. So how do you give them what they want by giving yourself what you want in spite of their management style? It is not easy but it is within your control. You give yourself what you need by doing your best, playing your game and letting go of everything else. Do you notice what’s missing? I didn’t say anything about your manager/coach/boss. The solution has nothing to do with that person. To be your best and play your game means:
- Letting go of the their expectations.
- Letting go of your desire to please and obey.
- Letting go of the fear of making a mistake or disappointing anyone.
- Finding the joy in your day and living it.
I did not say anything at all about how you actually do your job. Why? Because that’s the easiest part for you. You have developed your skills and instincts to the point where you are an instinctual performer. This doesn’t mean that you don’t have things to learn or that you don’t make mistakes; it means that you know how to do your job and you give it your best. You can’t control your “superiors”, but you can control yourself. You WILL make mistakes so get over it. You know what you’re doing, don’t let the bozos grind you down.
I’m not suggesting that you can’t align with your management. I’m also not suggesting that you behave defiantly or disrespectfully. I’m simply saying that the way to endure a situation in which you like the position you are in but have a bozo for a manager/coach/”superior”, you seize the initiative by defining your own success and letting go of the other noise.
Just know, to change the situation, you have to start by changing yourself. This is YOUR life. YOUR game. YOU are in control. There is purpose in these challenges and they are preparing you for others to come. Adversity makes you stronger and better as a person. Look at it as a series of puzzles to be solved and approach it one step at a time. This way, it won’t seem so overwhelming.
Now tell me, who are you living for?