This is the first cousin to the Tyrant and leads to pointing fingers and silo building. It’s the story of the boss who pulls the rug out from under her team to point out all their flaws. It’s when the status quo is suddenly way too low and she’s going to make sure you are shown the error of your ways. It’s kind of like, if suddenly cops actually started pulling you over for driving 60 miles an hour in a 55 speed zone. You’re saying to yourself, “Really? It’s only 5 miles over the speed limit. I’ve been driving like this for 30 years and now you’re going to start issuing tickets?”
The Gotcha boss feels emboldened because they have “such high standards”. She feels like she’s really calling the shots and making folks tow-the-line. In the meantime, her team is living in fear and not producing. They are constantly struggling to CYA and quickly pointing the finger at the rest of the team members so that everyone else ends up low person on the totem pole. All the other bosses start building up their silos so that the fingers don’t start getting pointed in their direction. Ah yes. There is safety with a thick, high wall between departments.
So what do you do if you are unfortunate enough to report to such a boss? Here are some tips:
1. Open. Keep open communication. If your boss is always busy and won’t make time for you, send an email. Subject line: Can we meet for ten minutes on the following? In the body of the email: list the bullet points of what you’d like to discuss. This gives your boss a heads up as to what the discussion is about. They get to prepare (if they need to) and don’t feel blindsided when you finally get the meeting. If your boss isn’t defensive, the communication will be more effective. Keep communication channels open.
2. Solution Focus. Don’t dwell on the details and drama. When you bring an issue to your boss, bring the solution with you. It’s best to bring three options. Three? Well, the first option is easy, the status quo. Option one is to keep on doing what we are doing: “Let’s keep the budget sequence the same and live with some being turned in late”. Option two is your desired outcome: “Let’s move up the deadline by two weeks and I’ll be responsible for following up with late comers”. Option three can be a stretch or your best case scenario but you’re not sure the boss will go for it: “Let’s schedule a meeting one week before the deadline to go over everyone’s budget which will reinforce completing it on time”. When there are three solutions, your boss won’t feel like it’s an ultimatum and will feel more in control. Focus on the solutions.
3. Sword. You might need to fall on the sword. Take responsibility for your part in the mess. “Boss, I didn’t follow up on those budget reports the way I should have. It’s my fault that 50% missed the deadline.” This might ensure that the rest of the team isn’t blind-sided and it should built authenticity if not trust with your boss. I’m not saying that there isn’t a slice of the boss population out there that might abuse this but, if that’s the case; it might be time to update your resume. In the meantime, fall on the sword.
4. Optimism. Stay optimistic. Focus on what is working. It might be that we aren’t losing as much money as we did last year or that sales are flat but we aren’t losing ground. It might be that you’ve retained your customer base or that your employee turnover rate is holding steady. Find some nugget of good and emphasize the positive. As I have pointed out in previous posts, staying positive is the best for your brain and build better, stronger pathways to solutions. Be optimistic.
5. Spine. You’re gonna need a backbone. Don’t cave if it’s something you believe in. Explain the rationale in your thinking to your Gotcha boss. If she can’t point out some flaws in your thinking, then remain steadfast. Sometimes you just need to go with your gut and stand up for what you believe in. If the boss doesn’t back you, work on your Linkedin profile and plan your escape. Have a backbone.
These tips can help those of you who need a strategy to improve your relationship with your boss. Some strategies won’t work. Many years ago I worked for a boss who didn’t have my back and I was put in a precarious ethical situation with the corporate office. I planned my escape and got out. All the advice in the world isn’t going to fix an unethical situation. Some Gotcha bosses can be turned around if you give it a try.