When Your Boss Expects Too Much

Remember in The Devil Wears Prada when the down-to-earth new assistant “Andy” played by Anne Hathaway decides there is no way she can please the she-devil magazine editor (played by Meryl Streep)?

Andy also wrestles with whether or not she is going to let the devil/editor get the best of her.

Do you remember what she does?

Andy quits participating in the drama and lets the boss know she’ll do her best to do what’s most valuable but will not kill herself seeking the devil’s personal approval.

Andy realizes she also r-e-a-l-l-y wants the job for the opportunities it will provide her. But, it is not worth her sanity.

That’s what makes the story interesting.

That’s worth thinking about if you have a boss that expects too much from you.

What To Do When Your Boss Expects Too Much

Does your boss boss you around for fun and games? Or does he/she over-commit you to others? Or keep piling more on your already-too-full plate? If so, this message is for you.

However –and here is the important caveat — you must be prepared to fight (responsibly of course) for your own sanity (i.e., freedom, choice, and power). Yes, you must be prepared to stand up for yourself.

One thing I’ve learned in my study of personal responsibility is this: If you don’t stand up for yourself, who will? There is a self-fulfilling prophecy here that can create a virtuous spiral up or a vicious circle down. It’s your choice.

Disclaimer: I must admit I’ve never had a truly over-bearing boss (except for myself) that I recall. In fact, I have not had a boss in nearly 20 years.

But I have coached many clients to deal successfully with unreasonable bosses, and I’ve had more than my share of over-bearing clients  — or prospective clients — that I learned to successfully negotiate.

So what is a responsible employee to do when the boss expects too much?

First, realize your value.

You are earning your keep, right? And not just adequately, but fully? The key to being able to say “Back off” to an overbearing boss or client is to be producing at a high level. And it is even better if you are bringing it at an exceptional level.

Only if you are clear (to yourself) that you are providing a valuable service will you have negotiating power.

Second, don’t expect your boss to play fair (though most will when confronted).

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of bosses who don’t believe in sustainable pace or fair play even though they repeat the language. This is where your courage and commitment to be treated fairly comes in.

If you shy away from standing up for yourself, you risk continual frustration and eventual burnout, not to mention never being able to deliver against impossible expectations.

Third, stand up for yourself by asking for clear priorities.

Often the best way to raise your hand and signal for help is to reveal the cards in your hand and show that they add up to impossible.

Say, “This looks like an exciting new project, Boss. Do you want me to prioritize it against all of the other number 1 projects you’ve assigned, or would you like to sit down together and help me re-balance my load?”

Fourth, be ready to walk.

The real question is this: Is any paycheck worth trading your dignity and self-respect for? If you say you can put up with it for another month, quarter, year, or decade until “X” happens, then what are you going to do to ensure you build up no resentment, carry no grudges, and don’t get accustomed to the treatment? After all, it is your choice — completely.

This may not be the safest way to keep your job. But then keeping such a job may be the highest risk approach to a sane and rewarding future.

Think about this: What would happen to overbearing bosses if every decent employee refused to work for them?

I know that you are more able and more powerful than you give yourself credit for. Sticking up for yourself may be the best thing you can do for yourself and for so many others who deserve not to have to put up with lousy bosses.

What do you think? Leave a comment about your thoughts and experience.

Leaders and coaches: Get Christopher’s best team building and leadership strategies collected over two-plus decades of solving teamwork problems for smart people. Attend the acclaimed Creating Results-Based Teams workshop, or get this FREE Special Report while it lasts: The Five Flawless Steps to Building a Strong Executive Leadership Team.

Christopher Avery, PhD, is a recognized authority on how individual and shared responsibility works in the mind and an advisor to leaders worldwide.

Posted in Responsibility on 05/19/2010 04:17 pm
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