Overcoming the Desire to Please Your Boss

Guest post from Chip

Two of the top
challenges young professionals report facing while making the transition into
management is a change in relational dynamics with former peers at work and the
fear of disappointing the boss who promoted them. One young woman shared her
distress when one of her best friends at work unfriended her on Facebook. The newly minted manager asked her friend,
“Why the unfriend?” She replied, “You
are the boss now, and I don’t want you creeping on my Facebook.” It is not
uncommon for there to be a bit of a cold spell while the relationship with a
peer goes through redefinition.

At first glance, how
your peers see you and what your manager thinks about you are unrelated, but being
overly concerned with your manager’s estimation of you may inhibit your ability
to effectively lead your peers and the development of your own leadership

If you find yourself
pre-occupied or even worried about what your boss thinks of you, give yourself
a break. One of the reasons you made it to management is because you cared and your
boss saw something in you that she did not see in your peers or others. That something is usually a comfort level
with building a relationship with authority figures or appearing to be more
mature than your peers. Perhaps you have heard your manager say things like,
“You are different from other Millennials” or “You are a throwback.” The term
throwback refers to someone who appears to be from a generation older than
one’s own. It could be flattering, but be aware, it could also set you up to be
perceived as someone you are not. It is a good thing to want your boss to be
pleased with you. However, the danger comes when you become more concerned with
the approval of your boss than being your own person or exercising your own
voice. The slang behavioral diagnosis for those who
quickly adapt what they think, say, and do in an effort to please their manager
is brown nose—the kiss of death for building
credibility with peers and exerting one’s own voice.

The first
step to overcoming the desire to please your boss is to accept there will come
a day when you disappoint him or her—not necessarily because you have done
something wrong, but because you did something different from what they would
do. It is inevitable! Even the best of mentor/mentoree relationships end in
conflict. It is a right of passage that eventually results in reconciliation
and mutual respect. As an example, my mentor primarily consulted nonprofit
organizations, and when I started working with major corporations, he was
disappointed. It hurt me to let him down, but I had to pursue my own path even
though it was emotionally difficult. Before he died, he affirmed me for having
the desire to help all kinds of organizations with generational diversity and valued
my work.

tension you may experience with your manager is often the result of leading
from your own perspective. Not unlike what you experience with peers, your
personal growth triggers a redefinition of the relationship with your boss.
When you understand the relational dynamic that is taking place, there is no
need to be defensive, make excuses, or villainize. No need to fret. It is a
sign of a new phase of your leadership development. One of the first stages of
leadership development is to develop your own perspective.

leads to the second step of overcoming the need to please your boss—develop
your own leadership perspective. What do you believe to be true? What are you
convinced of? What are you willing to stand for? How would you want to be
managed? The young professionals in research my coauthor Joel Schwarzbart and I
have conducted talk about feeling torn between the way they wanted to manage
and the way they thought their boss wanted them to manage. It was like having
their boss on one shoulder and their preferred “me” on the other. The dialogue in
their heads between the two created a migraine. The bipolarization also led to
inconsistency in leader behavior.

Having a
perspective can be quite powerful. A perspective can be as simple as, “Everyone
deserves a second chance.” Such a perspective has probably salvaged many a
career. It is not true in every situation, but helpful in most. Not having your
own perspective sets you up for being perceived as inauthentic and a mini-me of
your boss. Inauthenticity is the kiss of death for a young manager. Your peers
will not respect you, and ultimately your boss will be disappointed anyway.

The third
step is to understand that when a peer says you have changed for the worse or a
manager says you are not ready for the next level, it may be a function of them
not wanting their relationship with you to change. That is not a bad thing. You
have to keep it in perspective. It is not our enemies who hold us back from achieving
our full potential—it is usually those who care about us the most. When you
grow, advance, and seek new opportunities, it threatens relationships. If you
get that, it will save you sleepless nights, the need to defend yourself, and self-doubt.
Embrace all kinds of feedback—the good, the bad, and the ugly—just have your
own perspective.


Chip Espinoza is the
author, along with Joel Schwarzbart, of Millennials
Who Manage: How to Overcome Workplace Perceptions and Become a Great Leader
He is also the author of Managing the Millennials. Espinoza is the Academic
Director of Organizational Psychology and Nonprofit Leadership at Concordia
University Irvine