Bosspleasing sucks – what can the “boss” do?

Last week, I spoke about bosspleasing, its causes and consequences.

Today I’d like to talk to you about preventing bosspleasing. This week it is about the “boss”, who is really anyone in a position of formal or informal power in an organisation (i.e. most of us). Next week will be the turn of the pleaser.

The Wire. Information is essential for functioning in a complex environment

The Wire. Information is essential for functioning in a complex environment

What I am suggesting is not easy and is not a quick fix. There are rarely short term solutions to long term problems.

I’m going to encourage you to become a better user of feedback.

One of my favourite television shows of all time is The Wire. It is set in Baltimore and central to it is the drug culture of the city (the incredibly complex interaction between users, dealers, police, politicians and more is mesmerising). I’m going to focus on the users today. In The Wire, users are caught in a trap of physical and psychological addiction that leads them to ultimately becoming dependent on the drug. They don’t feel like they can function properly without it.

Here’s where we can all take a lesson. What if we felt like we couldn’t function properly in our roles without effective feedback?

Some likely outcomes are that:

  1. We would seek it out more often

  2. We would want to make sure that we were getting good feedback and not tolerate the bad stuff any more

The way that this counters bosspleasing is by actually changing what the “boss” is asking for. Even if people are aiming to please you, they need to do it by giving you useful feedback and not simply telling what you want to hear. This helps you and helps liberate them from having to try and guess what you want to hear.

Sound easy? It isn’t.

It’s hard work to not be defensive when your work is criticised. It’s hard work making yourself so available and vulnerable that anyone can tell you that you are wrong. It’s hard work creating the psychological safety in your team and organisation that allows people to be completely honest with you. It’s also long work – saying “trust me” is highly unlikely to be enough. You have to keep on walking the talk and take some hits along the way.

Think it’s impossible? Ray Dalio is a great example of a leader that does this. His company, Bridgewater Associates, manages about US$160bn in assets.  He has created a culture of what he calls radical transparency. You can Google him or watch his TED talk to find out more.

A deliberate and thoughtful obsession with effective feedback could be one of the keys to lifting performance.

So, a couple of questions for you to consider:

  1. Do enough people in your life tell you the truth – even when you don’t want to hear it?

  2. How will you get seek the information that you need and not just the information that you want?

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