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 Pixie's Blog 
Tuesday, September 01 2009
Michele McCarthy (of The McCarthy Show) and I collaborate on many ideas including the posts for the series Difficult Bosses.  Michele and her husband, Jim McCarthy, provide executive and teamwork consulting utilizing the results from research conducted in their teamwork laboratory, "BootCamp."  Two nights ago, Michele and I talked about the Difficult Bosses series by phone.

Pixie:  So Michele, to you, the bosses that I’ve discussed so far in the Difficult Bosses series are annoying bosses, not truly difficult bosses?

Michele:  Yes.  If people came to me with those types of complaints, I would just give advice about how to deal with them.

Pixie:  Then how would you describe a truly difficult boss?

Michele:  Some of the characteristics of a truly difficult boss:
  • won’t fire people
  • won’t promote based on merit
  • values loyalty without regard to merit
Loyalty without regard to merit means a truly difficult boss will promote someone regardless of the results just because he’s loyal to that employee or because that employee is loyal to him.

Pixie:  That’s like returning to the same barber over and over again even though he gives you a bad haircut.

Michele:  Exactly.  A truly difficult boss is also very parental.

Pixie:  Can you give an example? 

Michele:  Truly difficult bosses think their job is to control their employees as if they were unruly children. For example, they spend a lot of energy "containing" or saying "no."  Furthermore, they think they carry their job title because they’re smarter or better in some dimension.

Pixie:  Well, aren’t they better or smarter? 

Michele:  99 percent of organizations aren’t rational enough to promote someone to boss because they’re smartest or best.  Come to think of it, I challenge anyone to define "smartest" or "best."  That’s an arrogant point of view to begin with.  Frequently, difficult bosses are the boss simply because they wanted to be the boss so people would do what they say.

Pixie:  So it's all about power. 

Michele:  Yes, for the difficult bosses we are discussing at the moment, the primary motivator I perceive is a dark version of power.

Also, a truly difficult boss consciously or unconsciously sabotages or won’t promote people who they are afraid are “smarter” or “better.”  The way to highlight this is to contrast the difficult boss with a perfect boss.  A perfect boss loves someone who is “smarter” or “better” because they understand their job is to get results so they see someone who has some virtue as helpful to attaining their goals.  Consequently, the perfect boss supports and gives more attention to employees that show the most potential.

The darkest bosses will promote those who are loyal but who, in their mind, pose no threat.

Pixie:  What I hear you saying is that a truly difficult boss isn’t focused on results.  He or she is focused on power.

Michele:  Right. I also think if a boss doesn’t stop great things from happening, then you’re fine.  It’s the stopping greatness that defines a difficult boss.

Pixie:  So all the other things that I’ve discussed about difficult bosses are really about emotional boundary issues?

Michele: At least a large part are, yes. If a boss doesn't stop you from doing great things, just ignore the annoying parts. Do great things. Don't use the boss as an excuse. However, if you have a "truly difficult" boss, I recommend getting a new boss.

What are your thoughts?  Is your boss a truly difficult boss who stops you from doing great things or is he just an annoying boss?  How do you put the "courage to change" into action in your workplace relationships?

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PIXIE STEVENSON, LMP 
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