Why Does My Boss Hate Me?
Three things your boss would rather fire you for—than tell you about
Leaders talk by the water cooler, too.
When they do, they usually discuss the future they want for their company, their teams or themselves. And when they are being truly candid, they will admit there are employees who are holding the company back, and they simply don’t know how to change them.
I’m not talking about you, right?
Don’t be so sure.
Just about every company is trying to innovate these days. And change, even if it is designed to bring out the best in an organization can—often inadvertently—bring out the worst in us.
That can be fatal to your career.
Thinking back to when I was an employee, I now understand my unintended actions led me to be placed in the “dispensable” column even while I was thinking I was the quintessential A-player.
I got my first dream job at age 21 during my senior year in college. By then I had been working for six years—doing everything from food service, construction and security to starting a couple of small companies that did lawn care and made greeting cards.
I was bullish on my abilities. I considered myself experienced, hardworking and an asset for any team lucky enough to have me. So when I landed a job as a graphic designer, I thought I was prepared to set the world on fire.
I was right about one thing. I knew how to start fires.
Yes, I was hardworking and my intentions were good, but my work was often misdirected and I was cocky. I once spent the better part of a week creating an ad campaign for our company—nobody asked me to; I just thought the current ads were terrible. It didn’t occur to me that my boss had created them.
Although I had more experience than most people my age, my Achilles’ heel was that I thought everyone was driven by the same things that drove me—which at the time was fame and fortune. In a sentence, I was an HR disaster waiting to happen.
By year two, I’d gone from being a rising star to flaming asteroid.
I once created a T-shirt that made fun of the University of Iowa’s mascot. I went to Iowa State, and Iowa was our biggest rival. I compared their mascot to a sexually transmitted disease (hint: his name is Herky) and wrapped a condom over his head. The shirts became wildly popular before my boss even knew they were being sold.
Of course, his reputation in town meant more to him than making a few bucks with silly, sophomoric humor. When he pulled the shirts and scolded me, I was annoyed. Hadn’t I just made his store the talk of the town and put money in his pockets?
I remember vividly my boss Doug—a wonderfully gifted entrepreneur—trying to save me from myself. He explained that although I was talented, I was becoming a liability and he challenged, coached and pleaded with me to get my act together or I’d be gone.
I was stunned, angry…and appreciative. I could see that he wasn’t being a jerk and that he was actually trying to help me see things that I was missing in myself.
So here are three things I learned about myself by almost losing my job. Ironically, these are also three things that drive the bosses I know crazy and wind up causing upset stomachs, lack of productivity, premature graying and too many unemployed yet still unaware people.
You know you are in trouble when…
Drama Is Your Calling Card
The boss knows where to find you; he just follows the whispers. You always seem to sit at the center of the drama. If there is a complaint, you are making it, listening to it or enabling it. It gives you energy, and it gives your boss heartburn.
Your boss knows that as long as there is someone willing to play—or enable—the victim, nothing productive will ever get done. So you now have a target on your back.
But you don’t see it. You think you are rescuing the weak, speaking for the wronged masses or stopping the Idea Monkeys from crashing the company.
As a young man, I would sometimes misread the intentions of the organization and instead of asking questions, I would stir the pot; I would whisper; I would complain; I would roll my eyes.
Want to get ahead and make your boss smile? Resolve to be the cause of positive results. What’s the outcome your boss wants? What’s the outcome you want? Find out and make them both happen.
Your Cape No Longer Fits
You truly believe that your special and rare talents are critical to your organization’s success, so you jump in to save the day early and often. Wherever there is a fire to put out, you arrive—just in time—to put it out.
In the beginning, your heroics were lauded as amazing and the boss held you up as an example of how talent can make a big difference. But now, when you should be training new talent and bringing people along, your heroics get in the way of their growth. Instead of building teams, you seem to focus only on building your reputation. You end up intervening earlier and more often than necessary.
Stop being an adrenaline junky and ask your boss what your best and worst traits are and how she’d like to see you change. Ask her if you can mentor a younger version of you—remember the teacher always learns the most anyway. Most of all, begin to see your heroics as symptoms that maybe the team around you isn’t growing like they should be and get curious about your role in this lack of growth.
You Misjudge Intentions
Kevin O’Leary plays the caricature of the dollar-focused businessman on TV’s Shark Tank. According to Mr. O’Leary, “the only reason to do business is to make money.”
As a young man, I had a limited view of why people lead, why they start businesses and why they get upset. To me, they were all Kevin O’Leary-like. I thought all that drove them was money and, as I said, the fame that comes with it. If someone wanted to be a leader, I figured it was because they wanted to get paid more. If someone started a business, I assumed they wanted economic benefits that came along with it, and if the boss was mad, it was somehow, someway tied to economics.
Shockingly, my experience has been the polar opposite—at least when it comes to the most successful people I know. They are typically driven by a higher cause than money.
For you this is a huge opportunity. Find out what greater purpose drives your boss and organization. If you can’t find one, for God’s sake cocreate one with your leadership team. Purpose-driven organizations are more inspiring, fulfilling and successful than pure capitalist plays. You deserve to work in that kind of company. Your boss deserves the benefit of the doubt and support to make a greater purpose reality.
And you will have made sure that you really are a valued member of the organization.
Article originally published Mar. 18, 2014, on Forbes.com