Thursday, February 9, 2012

Difficult boss? Challenges for in-house counsel

It's no secret that bosses can be difficult people. So why would in-house counsel think they are immune from having one? On the flip side, if you supervise others, have you ever been surprised to learn that your direct reports consider you to be difficult (and you don’t)?

Being “difficult” can be in the eye of the beholder, with many shades and meanings. It can be good for direct reports and the organization, when change requires a forceful approach. When a supervising attorney is a "bad boss," it can have disastrous consequences.

If you're a difficult boss, consider these strategies and reminders:
  • Control your difficult side. Make sure you're in control of your difficult side.  It’s one thing to be tough and demanding, to get the best out of your team. But if you have a difficult nature that results from bad habits, you have work to do on improving your own competencies.
  • Be comfortable with your responsibilities. At times, being a tough boss comes with the territory. As leadership authors Hill and Lineback write, it takes “courage to make hard decisions or take tough actions, such as giving difficult feedback, denying a promotion to someone who's good but not good enough, . . . or even laying off people when the economy goes bad.” The First Requirement for Becoming a Great Boss.
  • Candor helps. So while there is no need to apologize (although it might help), be as candid as you can with your team or impacted direct reports. They should appreciate your explanation and openness about the company’s problems, the demands of your job, or a personal issue. Then watch them rise to the occasion.
  • Be clear. If your toughness is directed at changing the competencies of a direct report, make sure you have been clear as to what you're trying to accomplish. Change management is an art-form for which there are few short cuts. If you're at the point that you need to be difficult, your direct report should understand how serious this is. If you’re being passively aggressive because you don’t have the patience for change management, you’re unlikely to succeed.
  • Be "perfectly assertive." With a little fine-tuning, you may be able to turn your difficult nature into the desired competency of assertiveness. As Bob Sutton writes: "Being just assertive enough, while not easy for any boss, is one of the most important features of a good one. . . . the best bosses get the balance right on any given day, and in myriad interactions with their followers, peers, and own bosses." The Delicate Art of Being Perfectly Assertive.
  • It may be you. And then there’s the possibility that your difficult behavior is known to everyone but you. Paraphrasing Bob Sutton, you may have "a flawed and incomplete understanding of what it feels like to work for [you]." 12 Things Good Bosses Believe.
  • You may have some homework to do, but taming your difficult self will go a long way toward your being the best at
This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at

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