Even well-meaning bosses can unintentionally discourage employees from reaching their true potential. Here are a few ways that your boss makes you average.
1. They’re too focused on metrics
There is more to life than data. That’s a simple lesson to forget when you’re running a business. Bosses are expected to monitor and maximize team performance, top-line revenue, and profitability. In creative lines of work, performance metrics can be hard to identify. And the ones you can identify may be easy to measure but not necessarily indicative of team effectiveness. Veteran software developers groan at the mention of “lines of code” as a metric: they know that the value of software is not tied to its size, and that a large amount of code is harder to maintain and more buggy than a small amount of code.
There are qualitative aspects to most jobs that are equal to or greater than the quantitative aspects. When a boss loses sight of this and expects you to improve a metric that doesn’t reflect reality, you will work to improve the metric instead of improving your work.
2. They focus on the wrong metrics
Every team should have a few good metrics. However, you can have too much of a good thing. If your boss establishes the wrong metrics, the results can be devastating. Most team members will instinctively work to improve whatever metrics you put in front of them. If the metric is important to their boss, they must be worth improving, right? As you add more and more metrics, people have difficulty discerning which metrics are most important. This leads to analysis paralysis, indifference toward metrics, or misguided behaviors intended to improve meaningless metrics.
3. They give everyone equal tools, not sufficient tools
There is a difference in equality (everyone having the same support) and equity (everyone having the support they need). Just because every person on your team has the same tools does not mean everyone has what they need to do their best work. For example, it’s an attractive option to procure exactly the same computer for every employee. It’s easier to onboard new employees, easier to order, and easier for your IT department to manage. However, computers are not created equally. For example, if you need to develop an iPhone app, you should use an Apple computer. A top-of-the-line Windows laptop simply will not cut it. Bosses who fail to recognize the individualized needs of team members will set them up to fail. You can technically create an iPhone app without an Apple computer, but it’s going to be a horrifying and substandard experience.
4. They treat employees like interchangeable widgets
Similarly, bosses may treat more than equipment as indisputably equal. They may believe that any employee can replace you on a specific assignment. However, this overlooks the accumulated knowledge you have about your projects. It also overlooks the knowledge and capabilities of others. Even worse, it can lead to peculiarly biased decisions about who to promote. If you believe that anyone on your team is a viable candidate for promotion, you won’t always choose the best candidate. I’ve even heard stories of bosses overlooking productive employees for promotion (“he’s too busy being productive where he is!”) while moving unmotivated employees up the ladder (“maybe he just needs a bigger challenge!”).
5. They refuse to deviate from established processes
When everything looks the same to your boss, they’ll assume the established ways of doing things will work in every situation. However, this is not the case in reality. Processes that worked for yesterday’s conditions do not work today. The people and tools in a system change, so naturally the processes in a system must change as well. Failing to recognize this results in bosses requiring adherence to old processes, dismissing new ideas, and reprimanding employees from deviating from what has worked in the past.
6. Your boss makes you average by making you feel average
Above all else, a boss makes you average when they treat you like you are average. If your boss fails to value your good work, skills, or knowledge, you will feel unmotivated at work. Why put in the effort if it’s not going to be recognized? A boss’s average treatment comes in many forms: regularly postponing meetings with you, failing to listen to or address your concerns, being unprepared for your employee review, or assigning you to new projects without letting you see old projects through to completion. These behaviors may not be intentional swipes by your boss to make you feel average, but the result is the same.
What can you do when a boss makes you average?
If you feel like you’re working for an average-oriented boss, set aside some time to bring up specific concerns. Identify things that bother you today that you would like to see changed. Present your concerns as concrete problems that impact your performance or your team’s performance. Explain the symptoms you’re seeing, the underlying cause you have identified, and what you would like to change to improve the situation. By outlining the problems and benefits of your boss’s behavior—without ever implying your boss is the root cause of your problems—you will gain your boss’s support to improve specific problems.
As you resolve problems or improve things for others, take a moment to notify your boss of the improvement and its positive impact on the team. Over time, you’ll build up enough momentum and convince your boss to proactively support you in your work. You won’t be perceived as average once you establish a pattern of identifying and fixing concrete problems.
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