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  • Joan van den Brink

Under My Umbrella

How can you cope when your boss provides you with less than ideal conditions to thrive and perform at your best?

When you take a leadership position, it is often with a mixture of excitement and a little bit of fear, “Will I be successful?’ You strive to understand what is expected of you and what you need to do to be successful, not only on a personal level but also for the organisation as a whole. Often you are able to figure this out and turn out a good or even great performance. At some point in your leadership career, however, you will work for a manager who, through their behaviours, creates a difficult and even de-motivating climate for you to work in. These managers may be aware of their limitations, which include:

  • giving little praise for achievements whilst meting out punishments for below par results that are often due to factors outside of the control of the individual;

  • being absent, particularly when the going gets tough;

  • providing no clarity or direction;

  • making decisions without involving those who are affected etc.

yet they choose (or don’t know how) to do anything about it.

Do you recognise this? If yes, what can you, as a leader, do to not just survive but also thrive under these conditions?

There are two key groups whom you need to take care of:

  1. Your team; and

  2. Yourself.

1. Shield and support your team

You need to shield your team from the negativity that you experience. Building a high performing team, where individuals grow, use their talents well and deliver high quality results, is immensely rewarding. This means that you do not allow the stress that you are feeling impact the way that you lead. Assume responsibility for what you and your team need to deliver rather than pass on negative comments that your manager may have said or blame them when things seem unclear or constantly changing.

In the absence of a clear direction, create some clarity for your team with the information and data that you possess. Invest time in creating an energising environment in which your team members know what is expected of them, you give them accountability for the outcomes of their work, and you give them specific feedback (positive and critical) that enables them to learn and improve. Foster an open and trusting environment in which there is psychological safety.

In fact, you become an umbrella for your team, protecting them from the rain.

2. Tend to yourself

Absorbing the flak whilst motivating and empowering your team takes a lot of energy! The second critical thing you need to do is to get support for yourself. This can come in many guises:

  • trusted colleagues who understand the situation you are in, with whom you can share your experiences and talk through your feelings;

  • a coach or mentor who will enable you to process situations and consider what changes you want to make;

  • family and friends who can help you to enjoy life outside of work and feel good about yourself.

  • Also, cultivate your internal network so that other senior leaders and stakeholders in the organisation know who you are and what you do and can give you the recognition that you deserve.

Essentially, you are finding different ways to put your relationship and the situation with your boss into perspective and counter the negative impact that you experience there so that you feel good about yourself and what you are doing. This sustenance and positive energy will enable you to continue to perform at a high level for yourself and your team.

Whilst you cannot flourish in a toxic environment in the long term using the strategies above will help you to survive and even bloom in the short term.

Be an umbrella for your team and find your own shelter to weather the storms.

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