From adversary to teammate


My boss is extremely good at "harassment by procrastination". He hides his lack of competence by following the rulebook and buys time to avoid having to take action. So, for example:

Me: I'd like to do a 360 feedback before my appraisal so that I can add feedback to the

the appraisal document.

Boss: Good Idea let me think, will get back next week.

Two weeks later: Boss: I think the whole team should so this. Can I request everyone reads what Sanjay is proposing and gives feedback next week.

Week three: Boss: OK, the concept is good but we need to use an external third party to carry this out to maintain integrity & confidentiality. So give me three weeks to look into it.

Week seven: Boss: I have sent everyone some articles about the way this feedback process works and how it can fails. I want you all to be aware of this before we launch the process. I'll wait a week for feedback from you.

Week eight: Boss: We're getting lose to the end of the year and everyone is busy making their Christmas arrangements. Let's not rush things - early next year is a good time.

By now, I've lost hope and most of my colleagues have forgotten about it. So it falls off the agenda.

It feels as if his approach to everything I try to do is to pose bottlenecks and give me more to do by asking me to write multiple reports explaining the same thing. I'm not sure if he is trying to frustrate me to the extent that I start looking for another job.

The thing is, all his moves look legitimate. But the emotional journey for me is a nightmare. How do I deal with this sort of thing?


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Dawna Jones's Answer:

Sanjay, you have a couple of options to consider, the easiest being to shift your approach radically.

First, it is likely that your manager detects your frustration and assessment that he is incompetent. Consequently any pressure or frustration you express will only make him more reluctant to follow a course of action you recommend.

The steps he is taking to ensure that 360 degree feedback works for all staff are fair, although it is equally understandable that you would prefer things to happen much faster than they do. Yet getting to a place where your relationship inspires confidence and trust rather than negativity will take some leadership on your part. It is also an opportunity to develop your emotional intelligence skills. Then action can follow.

You can't take on responsibility for any fears he may have around making or implementing a decision, but you can help him know he has the support once he does. Procrastination, assuming that is what he is doing, is often the result of someone wanting to get it right, not wanting to fail or let anyone down. There are other reasons so the first step is to find out how you can help him.

To put it another way, the shortest path is to move from adversary to teammate. Right now, it feels like you are aiming for his job. If that is true, then know that it creates a path of resistance. Start by moving into a mindset of curiosity. Find out what he needs from you to be confident in moving forward, to make a decision.

I am not talking information gathered through the repetitive cycle you've experienced. I am referring to letting him know that you've seen things cycle back and that you'd like to help him shorten the cycle from idea to implementation. Your line of questions could include: When you make a decision concerning staff, what information do you need in order to proceed? How can I help you?

You are aiming to agree on a 'protocol' between you that can be used to put the unsaid on the table without judgment and to agree on how to move forward. To tell the truth as you see it, without blame or judgment is a higher level of personal mastery. This is a huge opportunity to raise your skills.

The second area you can use to your advantage is your emotional response. In this case, there is an underlying belief that shapes your perceptions. To find out what it is, one way is to use the Five Whys: Why am I responding this way? Why is that? And so on until you come to the core belief that is shaping your perception. That is something you CAN alter.

You can't change your boss, unless you choose to leave, but you still take yourself with you everywhere you go so it is best to use this experience to advance your skills rather than risk repeating the experience. Finally, you can always change jobs but as I've just noted, you'll miss a big chance to raise your skills.

Better skills are something you can take everywhere you go. And taking personal responsibility is the first calling when leading yourself. You have a great opening in your relationship with the boss to put that to work.


About our Expert

Dawna Jones
Dawna Jones

Dawna Jones is the author of Decision Making for Dummies and host of the Evolutionary Provocateur podcast. She contributes imaginative insights plus 25 years experience so companies can transform from "business-as-usual" to inclusive cultures of prosperity. You can connect with her on LinkedIn