How Do I Tell My Supervisor His Leadership Style is Negatively Affecting the Team?

There may come a time in your career where you need to have a difficult conversation with your supervisor.  It’s not always easy to do, but it may be necessary.  Let’s face it…supervisors are human too and they are not perfect.  There is no real rule book on how to be a good manager.  I mean, yes, there are a lot of books that have been written with tips and suggestions and of course you can go to training, but a lot of learning actually happens on the job.   The most important lessons about being a manager actually come from trial and error and practicing daily.  Oftentimes, great leadership skills come from making a lot of mistakes, which results in learning what not to do.  Therefore, I am a firm believer that the majority of the time when supervisors are difficult to work for it is because they honestly don’t know that there are some issues.  Maybe your supervisor is not aware of how his leadership style is demotivating to the team.  Maybe his ignoring an important issue is completely unintentional.  Perhaps his communication needs some improvement and he could be a bit more transparent but he doesn’t know how.  So, before you decide to tell your supervisor about his undesirable management style, give it a lot of thought and keep in mind he might honestly have no idea that his leadership style is affecting the team.

I am fully aware that addressing something that you want your supervisor to change could be a scary thing.  What if he doesn’t receive the feedback in a positive way?  What if he accuses you of being too emotional?  What if there is retaliation?  Yes, I agree that there are definitely some risks involved but I believe if you handle it correctly, it minimizes the chance of it backfiring on you.  There have been 2 instances in my career where I have had to give feedback to my supervisor.  In both situations I had to be the ‘mouthpiece’ for the team.  It took a lot of thought on my part, but what ultimately gave me the courage to do it was the work environment became unbearable and even more than that I knew no one else would do it.  So, maybe this is you and your situation.  Maybe you have to be the ‘mouthpiece’ for your team.  Maybe your co-workers have confided in you and have delegated you as the person to make the change happen.  Maybe you have the best relationship with the supervisor and the information would be better received coming from you.  Whatever the case may be, I hope to give you some tips that will help you.

1)  Give Feedback Gently and 1 on 1

The most important thing to remember is to give your supervisor feedback 1 on 1.  We all know how it feels to be confronted or “called out” in front of other people.  It is not a good feeling and instantly makes you defensive.  This is a sure way to make an already uncomfortable situation worse.  If it was you, how would you want to receive feedback?  You would want to receive it respectfully and gently, right?  So extend this courtesy to your supervisor.  At the end of the day, he is human and has feelings (even though he may not show them) and he is your boss so he deserves respect for this reason alone.

You also must decide the best time and method to have the discussion.  If you decide you want to address the situation verbally and you regularly meet 1 on 1 for meetings, that might be the best time to do it.  If you feel that removing yourself from the work environment and discussing things over lunch would help, then go that route.  Some supervisors actually communicate better through written communication and the information may be better received if you typed it up in an email.  Also, you can combine both methods by simply typing up some bullet points and sending it in advance to let him you would like to discuss those items in your next meeting.

2) Remove your Personal Feelings

You definitely don’t want to have a difficult conversation when you’re angry.  If something has recently happened, you may want to wait 2 – 3 days until you can be rational and have a professional conversation.  Now, don’t wait a month and then rehash stuff that has already happened, but do give yourself some time to calm down and reflect on the situation. This will help you to remove your emotions from the equation.  It’s not about how you feel.  It is about how your supervisor’s actions affect the team.  So when you have the conversation, you should never start your sentences with “you,” which are emotional (E) statements. Instead, use results-driven (R) statements.   In doing this, the focus is always on the team and the positive outcomes and not the negative behavior of your manager.

(E)  “You don’t communicate to the team.”

(R)  “The team is really affected when we don’t have clear communication from you.”

(E)  “You don’t appreciate us.”

(R)  “The team morale would greatly improve if we felt like you appreciated us more.”

(E)  “You’re never in your office.”

(R)  “The team could really benefit from having access to your schedule and/or being notified if you are going to be out of the office the majority of the day.”

3) Have Specific Examples

OK, because you and your team are the ones being affected, you probably can rattle off a number of wrongdoings by your supervisor for the last 6 months.   But, remember your supervisor may honestly have no idea so you must have specific, recent examples that illustrate the less than desirable behavior.  So that means don’t have a list of 20 things to talk about because that’s too much for anybody to take, but have 3 – 4 examples that speak to the most important areas you want to address.  Be able to state specifically what happened and what action the team deemed inappropriate.

4) Have Solutions

When you mention these examples in step 3, be sure to have solutions.  If not, you will just seem like you are whining and/or complaining.  The whole point is to alter the behavior.  So if your supervisor doesn’t know he is doing something wrong, then he won’t know how to fix it either.   So that’s where you come in.  Come up with some realistic suggestions on how things could improve.  You also have to be willing to do your part to ensure the changes are effective.

5) Listen Just as Much as You Talk 

After you have mentioned all the points you wanted to speak on, be sure to listen.  Conversations are a 2-way street and should never be one-sided.  You may be surprised how well it goes if you will give your supervisor a chance to acknowledge what you are saying and add his input as well.  All of this may be new to him and he may need to ask some questions of you to fully understand how to fix the situation.  Listening is a form of humility which will be key in your conversation.

6) Don’t Spill the Beans

That’s a fancy way of saying don’t gossip about the situation.  If your co-workers want to know the outcome of your conversation, just simply say that you made him aware of the issues and there should be some changes.  Again, you should be approaching this situation as if  you were in your supervisor’s shoes.  If you yourself needed to make some improvements, you wouldn’t want everybody talking about it.  Furthermore, if you are able to get through to your supervisor and it is a positive outcome, you don’t want to jeopardize the trust your manager has in you by gossiping about your discussion with the entire team.  And definitely DO NOT discuss it with people outside of your team.  It really just makes you look bad.

So, those are the steps I have found to be most effective when dealing with things of this nature.  I know some of you are saying I have tried all of this and nothing has changed with my manager.  Well, you have to give your supervisor a reasonable amount of time to process what you have said and modify his behavior.  Change is difficult for most people and it will not happen overnight.  After a reasonable amount of time, you may have to have a follow up conversation. And unfortunately sometimes you even have to go a step further and involve someone else. But let’s hope it doesn’t go that far and that won’t be necessary.

I know someone is wondering what happened in my 2 situations??!! Since I mentioned them, I guess it would only be fair to tell you the outcome.  In the first instance, my supervisor seemed to understand where I was coming from and appeared to be appreciative that I let him know how the team felt.  He had conversations with other team members and they all confirmed what I said.  However, in the coming weeks he began to distance himself from me and we starting interacting with each other less and less.  Ultimately, he made no effort to change his actions, which forced me to get another job.  In the second situation,  my supervisor received the information very well and very humbly listened to what I had to say.  There was an immediate change in his behavior and the whole atmosphere of the office instantly changed.  Other people commented on the change without even knowing I’d had a conversation with him.

Hopefully, your situation will turn out like the latter and be the beginning of a fresh start for your supervisor and your team.  When you approach situations the right way and come from a positive place it makes all the difference.  Your supervisor should be receptive to the insight and want to make things better for his team.  I sure hope so!

What Does Your Phone Etiquette/Voicemail Message Say About You?

What Would I Hear?

If I were to call you right now at your job, what impression would I get of you?  Would I think you were professional?  Unprofessional?  Tired?  Would you make me feel like you were busy and not really listening?  Or would I be able to tell that you’re having a bad day or upset with your supervisor?  Hopefully, my impression would be the first one because you are answering the phone in a professional manner at all times.  Regardless of how you feel at that moment, you should always answer the phone pleasantly because you never know who is on the other end – especially if you receive phone calls from the public.  State your name and your company/department clearly and sound enthusiastic when receiving a call.  Do this simple experiment tomorrow when you go to work…..answer each call with a smile on your face (whether you feel like it or not) and see if it doesn’t put some “cheer” in your voice.  I know it’s not always easy to do (especially on a Monday morning), but it works!

Placing Calls At Work

When placing a call to someone else in the workplace use proper phone etiquette as well.  Your co-workers are human too, so take a second to ask how they are before getting right down to business.  It takes 2 seconds to ask someone how their weekend was before you jump into asking them to send a report to you or fix a problem.  The more you get to know them on a personal level, the more prone they are to want to work with you and send you the reports you are requesting.  Think about it….you would also appreciate the same.

Personal Phone Calls

Now, let’s switch to your personal cell phone………UH OH!! If I were to listen to the voicemail message you have on your cell phone, what would I think?  Would you want a potential employer to hear the voicemail message you currently have?  Did you know that your voicemail message says a lot about you?  It is one of the first impressions an employer has of you.   As a hiring manager, I called potential employees all the time and judged them based on their voicemail message.   Was it fair?  Maybe not, but that’s what I did.  Having music playing as your answer tone or on your voicemail message is NOT appropriate.  When job searching you should record a simple, but professional message because a potential employer could be turned off by an unprofessional message.  Below is an example:

Hello, you have reached the voicemail for Dena. I am not able to come to the phone right now, but if you leave your name, number and a brief message I will return your call as soon as possible. Thank you and have a great day!

Do’s and Don’ts

When looking for a job, be sure to check your missed calls and voicemail regularly and return all calls ASAP.  A missed call or an ignored message may mean a missed interview or job offer.  And whatever you do…..DO NOT put an employer on hold when they are calling you to offer you a job or set up an interview.  I actually know of a situation where a candidate was on the phone with an employer and they were discussing the job offer.  The employer wanted the candidate to come in and sign the paperwork and finalize when the first day of employment would be.  The candidate received a call on the other line and clicked over to answer it.  By the time she clicked back over, the employer rescinded her job offer and no longer wanted to hire the candidate.  I called the employer later that same day to ask what made her change her mind.  She said she didn’t think the candidate was serious about accepting the job because she clicked over to take another call.  So, those few moments of answering another call actually cost the candidate the job!

Answering the Phone While Preoccupied

When answering the phone at home or while driving in your car, you shouldn’t have loud noise or music playing in the background.  If an unfamiliar number comes up on your caller ID, it could be an employer so turn your radio or TV down BEFORE answering the call.  You do expect them to call you, right???  So be prepared.  If you are driving, it is perfectly okay to ask them to give you a minute to pull over so you can get paper and a pen to write down information.  Don’t ask if you can call them back…..just ask them to give you a minute and pull over and park your car as quickly as possible.  (Tip:  If you can’t pull over and happen to have someone else in the car with you, put your phone on speaker and have the passenger write information down for you.)  The same is true if you are out having lunch or at the mall and an employer calls, ask them to give you a moment to get to a quiet place.  You don’t have to say where you are, just let them know you would like to be able to hear them clearly and would like a moment to step away from the noise.

Placing Calls to Employers

If you are calling an employer to follow up to an interview or maybe networking with an employer over the phone, jot down the key points you want to discuss beforehand in case you get nervous.  This will help to keep you on track and keep you from stumbling over your words.  Also, have your 30 second commercial memorized if you are introducing yourself or trying to “sell yourself” to the employer.  If you will be setting up an interview or appointment, have a calendar in front of you so you can readily set a time to meet.  Be mindful of the employer’s time and discuss what’s necessary without dragging the conversation out.  Lastly, if you need to leave a voicemail message for them, keep that brief as well.

So, the next time you receive/place a call or record your voicemail message, think about what it says about you.  At your current job, you just might win a customer over by answering the phone pleasantly.  Also, you may be surprised how much your co-workers appreciate a genuine inquiry about their day before requesting something from them right away. When interacting with employers, hopefully you have realized that your phone etiquette and/or voicemail message could very well cost you the job!

Have a Mentor / Be a Mentor

Have you ever wondered how successful people got that way?  How did they know which path to take and which steps would help them accomplish their dreams?  The majority of them had a mentor – someone wiser, more experienced whose been down the path they were trying to go down.  That person offered some advice and words of wisdom that propelled them in the right direction.  A mentor can tell you what to do and what not to do; oftentimes, saving you some steps (and heartache) in between.

I once heard someone say, “What you admire in someone else, you yourself become.”  That is so true! When you admire someone else, you want to imitate them and do what they do.  A mentor should definitely be someone who inspires you and that inspiration should empower you to do better and be better.  They exemplify the qualities and level of success that you wish to possess.

A mentor can have many definitions and the mentor/mentee dynamic can be as unique as the relationship.  Whether it is a defined relationship where you meet face to face weekly and discuss specific things or whether it is an undefined relationship and you chat about a number of things via the phone whenever your schedules allow.  How you set up your mentor/mentee relationship is completely up to you.  You can have a mentor for your career, furthering your education, relationships…the list goes on and on.

Some of the questions you can ask your mentor are:

1)    What made you choose your career field?

2)    What do you like best about your job?

3)    What is the best advice that someone gave you?

4)    What qualities do you feel someone needs to be successful?

5)    What experience do you think I need to achieve my goals?

6)    If you could do things over again, what would you do differently?

Having a mentor in the workplace could be critical to your getting a promotion and being successful.  In 75% of promotions, employees have a mentoring relationship with someone higher up on the food chain who speaks favorably on their behalf.  Your mentor could also introduce you to people in their network and write letters of recommendation for you to help you achieve your goals.

Now don’t forget…..once you reach a certain level of success, be sure to give back and mentor someone else.  Everyone has something they can teach to someone coming behind them. There ought to be some tidbit of information that you can share with someone else. Even if you are junior or senior in school, you can mentor the freshmen and sophomores coming after you.  Keep in mind it is an ongoing process and throughout your life, you may have many mentors.  This is the way it should work:

Mentor   >   YOU   >   Mentee   

If we all develop this model of thinking, imagine what we could achieve together! To put it in simpler terms….I help you so, in turn, you can help someone else.