Who’s the boss?

What a word. Boss.

I don’t know about you, but for me, it conjures up some fairly negative stuff. I don’t like being told what to do.  Or to be more specific, I don’t like being told what to do just because someone told me to do it.

Let me explain.

Gretchen Rubin developed a four-tendency framework to help people understand how we generally respond to expectations – both those that we place on ourselves, as well as the ones others place on us.  I like this framework because it’s easy to understand and it’s probably easy for most of us to place ourselves in one of these categories.  From Rubin’s blog:

  • Upholders respond readily to outer and inner expectations
  • Questioners question all expectations; they’ll meet an expectation if they think it makes sense – essentially, they make all expectations into inner expectations
  • Obligers meet outer expectations, but struggle to meet expectations they impose on themselves
  • Rebels resist all expectations, outer and inner alike

I’m solidly in the ‘Questioner’ category.  I’ll respond to an expectation if I think it makes sense.  I’m not going to pretend even for a second that I know everything, though I almost always have an opinion and want to weigh in.

I’ve found that having the ability to do that – to weigh in on a task or responsibility required of me at a job or gig – and having the opportunity to discuss it, generally leads to better outcomes and ideas.   I’ve brought the best version of myself in the organizations and contracts that have allowed me do this.

Rubin’s four-tendency framework for understanding how people respond to expectations is important in the workplace, and how we might interact with ‘bosses’ – whether we are one, or have one.

Typing boss into Google comes up with these definitions:

  • Boss (noun): a person in charge of a worker or organization
  • Boss (verb): give (someone) orders in a domineering manner
  • Boss (adjective, North American): excellent, outstanding

I’ve found that a lot people interpret the word boss as per the definition listed for boss as a verb – to give orders in a domineering manner.  In cultures like these, people who become bosses are those who seek power.

When really, a boss is someone with more responsibility – both to the people they are responsible for, as well as the organization.

You know what they (specifically this guy who goes by the name of Batman) says about power – with great power comes great responsibility.  If only more people chose to live by those wise words.

Good ‘bosses’ know who is on their team – in terms of personality and motivation – and how that person responds to expectations.  They help BOTH that person AND the organization accomplish their goals, and continue to grow.  They are people who create win-win situations.

Going back to the word ‘boss’.

I’m in favour of dropping the word boss in our workplaces altogether.  I currently work for someone else.  But I don’t see him as my boss.  He’s the director who I report to – he is responsible for overseeing the work that I do.

He knows more about the business than I do – he owns part of it and has been there for many more years than I have – though I know more about my direct experience dealing with our prospects and customers because that’s what I spend my time doing every day.  And I know that because of that, I can bring valuable business insight.  And for whatever it is you are doing, so can you.

So while I report to someone who has more responsibility than I have, I don’t really see myself as having a boss.  I see myself as my own boss – the boss of Me Inc. I feel responsibility, and I’m going to get my work done because I know where I’m going and why I’m here.  I mostly just need 2 things from a director / boss: 1. help clearing the real barriers that stand between me and execution, and 2. the opportunity to discuss the perceived barriers that I’m facing so that I can reframe them.  The second thing is where mentors and coaches come in very handy because sometimes the challenges we’re facing are only inside of our heads – whether it’s an upper limit problem or an issue that we just haven’t faced before and not certain of how to navigate it.

I’m the only one thinking about the word boss.  If you haven’t yet checked out the ‘I Hate my Boss’ podcast, consider it.  Liz Dolan and Larry Seal are killing it with humour and great advice on how to navigate workplace cultures.  I guarantee that if you listen to it, you will have a moment of ‘oh, phew – I’m not the only one dealing with that!’.

So really, who’s the boss?  Well, I suppose that’s up to you.

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