Boss Is Too Nice

Question to Ask the Workplace Doctors about a nice but not a knowledgeable boss:

We work in a professional environment. We do projects that we are mostly responsible for, as well as is our boss. My boss is a very nice person, who cares very much about the people who work for him. He is also very approachable and supportive of your work and careers. Although this may seem ideal in some respects, his personality has created many problems at our work. He is the sort of person who is too nice thus avoiding confrontation, discipline and lacking authority even when it is needed. We also feel that he has not much knowledge in the different areas of projects that we do, this as a result making people feel that the boss cannot provide the necessary help when they need.

People at work therefore have very little respect for him, and although not initiated I have also been part of frequent conversations among my colleagues where he has been basically branded as an incompetent fool who is not very cleaver. This attitude, perhaps enforced and reiterated by certain colleagues more than others (I think for their personal reasons), ultimately leads us all to feel quite depressed about working in this environment. It’s almost as if we are creating a viscous cycle for our selves. Unfortunately my boss is not aware of what we think and has not been very proactive in trying to address the consequences of this issue (like a lack of enthusiasm, initiative) at our workplace. In his defense he has higher priorities at the moment in trying to get money for all of us to continue employment!

For my personal sanity and happiness at work, I have been actively trying to change my perspective of him ad how I approach work. I guess no manager is perfect and an expert in everything that involves management. Looking at his positives I have decided to make the most of it and take an initiative my self. I have suggested many projects to him. Every proposal I have put to him, he has been supportive of, and when he is not able to help I have asked him to find someone from whom I can get help; that he has done. Unfortunately and fortunately this has made me the boss’ favorite and to be disliked by my colleagues. Can you give me some advice as to the solution to our work situation and the best way to approach this?

Signed, Making The Most Of It 

Dear Making The Most Of It:

Badmouthing a boss is all too common. Badmouthing bad bosses can be understood, and badmouthing a “too nice” boss might seem unreasonable, yet can spring can from many aspects of the boss/bossed relationship; a general dislike of authority, a manager’s failings of know-how, inequities of pay/perks compared to the boss’s, disappointment over assignments, his/her failure to manage with authority and over-looking poor performance, or as you suggest also resentment of perceived favoritism.

What have you done about this? You have assessed the climate of your workplace and found that the badmouthing has descended in a viscous cycle of gossip that makes for a depressing work environment. To counter this, you have shaped your own job and enlisted the help of your boss to develop several projects. Consequently you have found a good working relationship with him in the course of doing that. And that unfortunately has resulted in unexpected and uncomfortable consequences; actual or imagined dislike of you by your colleagues. So now what can you do about that? You have some choices:
· Defend your boss; when you hear put-downs of him, argue that he is simply “too nice” and they can be glad he is rather than is an overbearing know-it-all who lords over his little empire. This might help some, but probably is not a satisfactory solution because you coworkers will defend their low opinion of him and blame him for doing favors for you.
· Defend yourself to your colleagues; tell them that the boss is really a helpful person if they bring good ideas to him and solicit his support. This probably is not the best choice because you will still be seen as the boss’ pet and the badmouthing will continue. · Confront your boss; disclose to him the badmouthing about him and help him understand the charges made against him–his lack of knowledge, failure to confront problem and to discipline where deserved. This too probably is not the best solution because it is saying “Mirror on the wall, you are not the fairest of them all.” · Engage a few colleagues in informal empathic conversations about the general atmosphere; feeling “quite depressed about working in this environment.” (I use the plural “conversations” because what has evolved over time is not changed in one conversation.) This choice has potential because once colleagues admit that things are depressing, they inevitably are drawn to diagnosing its causes. Likely some will place blame on the boss, but they also will be drawn to discuss what might help the boss manage more to their liking. In short, your conversation, most probably will evolve to talk of overthrowing the boss or of ways to shake him up.

But rather than wallow in victimization, also here is the seed of collaboration. Good conversations lead to asking: What are the overarching goals of our work group? What might make our work together exciting and respected by the wider organization? And what might we as a group do to make that happen? I don’t know the size of your work group, but if you elect this latter approach, you are close to a team building quality improvement effort. This concept will not solve everything, it is no panacea, but this approach is summed up in my signature sentence: Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. By that I am suggesting that the vicious cycle you say has made for a depression work environment will not change until and unless the conversation changes to: “What can we do together to make this place a great place in which to work?” Informal conversations of this vein can become real when you make them formal; when you and several of your colleagues approach the “too nice” manager and ask that skull sessions should be scheduled in regular staff meetings and/or in a breakout retreat focused on Finding New Projects, Quality Improvement, Innovation, Delighting Our Customers, or Whatever you want to call it. Such sessions can then address such topics as cutting wasted supplies, effort, and time; what we are doing well that deserves applause; cutting out incivility and gossip, developing more effective interpersonal communication and working environment; what we have been doing that might be done more effectively; and the core of all your sessions is making it common to talk about:

What are the signs that we are working together as a team? Concerted brainstorming on quality improvement does not happen without a reason for it. Your work group’s reason for it is unhappiness with a depressed work environment. I have seen the excitement that can result when coworkers cluster about projects; and sometimes compete in projects that will cut costs, projects that are innovative, projects that will make money, projects that address a social need. Soooo the challenge is before you. You have found a way to work more effectively solo, and now can you find a way to work WEGO? Allow these ideas to simmer. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You can’t erase all dislike or thoughts that you are disliked. Trying to be liked is not the way to solve the general fog you feel in your work setting. Be professional and cheer others on. Suggesting smiles and thank yous might seem too Pollyannish, but they can make your day and others’ days brighter. I predict that within the next few weeks you will find ways to subtly and/or more directly engage your work group as a whole in finding overarching goals and projects that will make a difference.

William Gorden