4 Needed Shifts in the Traditional Boss-Subordinate Relationship

The Boss-Subordinate relationship is unnatural by design.  We sell our power for money.  We look to a person we have not chosen (whom we may or may not respect) for affirmation, evaluation, and reward.   In order to “succeed” we strive to figure out what will make this guy like us, and adjust our style accordingly.  We take every criticism to heart, even when we don’t believe it.   We take this already unnatural structure and impose even more awkward performance feedback systems.

Imagine if we burdened our home relationships with some of the same formal systems we impose at work.

“Honey, I’ve decided to give you an end-of-year appraisal.  Your cooking’s improved and you’re taking out the trash without being reminded, you get an A in housework.  But you’ve been so stressed lately; I have to give romance a B-”

Imagine if we burdened our home relationships with some of the same formal systems we impose at work.

We wouldn’t even consider that stunt with our kids, where we have more “power.”

If such tactics wouldn’t work with people who know and love us, why would we imagine they would enhance trust at work? Here are 4 needed shifts in the traditional boss-subordinate relationship: 

1.  From Mystery to Transparency

Your team will follow your lead.  If you won’t share what’s on your heart and mind neither will they.  You’re wasting valuable time with all that guessing.  Take some risks and let your team in. Share more of the bigger picture than feels “safe.”  There’s no better way to get people to trust you, than to trust them.

2.  From Power to Support

Even if you’re not the title-conscious type, chances are your team brings with them scar tissue and expectations from a brutal boss at some point in their career.   Your “power” can be intimidating, even when you aren’t trying to exert control.  Guard your words and actions.  Ask provocative questions that inspire creative thinking and growth.  Treat your team with the same level of respect you give your boss.

3.  Evaluation to Development

No one likes to be “judged.”  Constructive feedback will go a lot farther outside of the confines of traditional performance appraisal systems.  Try doubling the number of one-on-one sessions you have with your team.  Help them set stretch goals and meet with them regularly to support their achievement.

And remember, it’s okay to be impressed.  Responding with a big “wow” every now and then won’t make anyone work less hard.  Enthusiastic “thank yous” go a long way in inspiring further stretching.

4.  Ranking to Collaboration

If you’re part of a big company you’ve got to play by the big rules around talent reviews and 9 box performance potential grids.   Do what you need to do, but don’t stop there. I’ve seen organizations get so hung up on doing succession planning down to the lowest levels of the organization, that managers get labelled as “high potential” or “low potential” very early in their careers.   Labels are hard to change, even when the people do.   Invest deeply in bringing out the untapped potential in every team member.  Look for what’s possible beyond their current role.

Your turn. What shifts are most necessary to improve the traditional “boss” relationship?


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Copyright: mrgrafi / 123RF Stock Photo

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt is an experienced executive and founder of Let’s Grow Leaders. Karin was named to the "2014 Top 100 List of Thought Leaders in Trusted Business Behavior" by Trust Across America, and the Wiseman Group’s Multiplier of the Year in Business. Her experience is based on two decades of leadership and executive experience at Verizon in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, human resources and training. Her mission is to develop the next generation of trustworthy transparent leaders achieving breakthrough results.

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