Thursday, June 14, 2012

Embrace your "difficult boss," in-house counsel

Whether your boss is the CEO, the general counsel or managing counsel, you should want your boss to be reasonably demanding. A boss that challenges you helps you get better at doing your job as in-house counsel.

If your boss is grumpy on any given day, that's a prerogative of being "the boss." But if you find your boss to be very "difficult," is it your boss who needs to change, or is it you?

Conventional wisdom is that you can't change your boss. So start thinking about how you can change you  to help you embrace your difficult boss.

Strategies for self-change. Here are suggestions on where to start your make-over:
  • Be open to change. Your boss may be difficult because he/she is trying to move you in a direction you don’t want to go, to change your habits, to improve your competencies. You perceive your boss as being difficult because you like the way you are (it’s worked for you up to this point). Sorry to tell you, but if you don't begin to change yourself, you are inviting disaster, an ending that you won’t like and can’t win.
  • See difficulty as a strength, not a weakness. To understand why your boss needs to be reasonably difficult, heed the wisdom of leadership author and academic Dan McCarthy, who says: "Leaders can’t be their employee’s friends, and leading change usually means ruffling someone’s feathers. Being a leader . . . requires developing a thick skin and being able to take the heat without taking it personally." 10 Mistakes Every Leader Should Make (and learn from) Before They Die).
  • Be understanding of your boss' challenges. There may be root causes that have nothing to do with you. Does your boss have a difficult boss? Is your company facing financial difficulties? Has your boss had a recent personal tragedy? Knowledge of underlying causes may go a long way to bridge the gap between you and your boss.
  • Learn from your boss. Take the advice of  leadership researcher Liz Wiseman, who writes: "instead of trying to change your boss, focus on trying to better utilize your boss. . . . Tap into his or her knowledge and skills in service of the work you're leading" and don't be so quick to dismiss your boss's criticism. How to Bring Out the Best in Your Boss.
  • Managing up. Don't wait for your boss to make the first move. It is you who should "[t]ake responsibility for this crucial relationship. Test and probe to find what's possible. There are bad bosses with whom you will have little ability to shape the way you work together, but most bosses are just people like you, with likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses. It will never be a relationship of equals — that's not how the world works  but it can be mutually supportive . . . ." In Pursuit of a Better Boss (Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback). Become a master of The Art of Managing Up and make a deliberate effort to develop a better working relationship with your boss. Your success will enhance your effectiveness in the art of
Strategies for changing your boss. If you have considered all the alternatives and conclude that it's your boss (and not you) who needs to change, so be it. But be forewarned: you may fail. It takes courage, skill, and a good measure of luck to change your boss. Here are some suggestions for this avenue of attack:
  • Ask for help. This is not something you want to do on your own. Weigh the pros and cons of working with the assistance of an HR professional, a personal coach, mentor, or peer.
  • Anonymous feedback. An indirect approach would be to find an article that describes the habits and characteristics you're trying to change. Leave a photocopy on your boss' chair, and hope that this resonates with your boss. Here is one example: 11 Habits of the Worst Boss I Ever Had. For the ultimate source of "good boss/bad boss" qualities, read Bob Sutton's blog.
On your becoming a less difficult boss. On the flip side, if you have direct reports who consider you to be difficult,  read my post, Difficult boss? Challenges for in-house counselfor thoughts on how you can become a less difficult boss.

This summary was prepared by Perry Cone and posted at

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