Taming beastly bosses

Sometimes managers behave a bit like wild animals. But hiding behind that ferocious lion's roar might be a boss who's really just a timid kitten struggling to survive the workaday jungle. Here's how to coax out your boss's softer side.
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Oct 01, 2008




Let's be honest: It's rare to find an employee who hasn't indulged in a good old gripe fest with co-workers. There's something comforting in knowing that the boss's incessant tardiness or horrible attitude is bothering other people, too. But these complaint sessions don't really solve anything. That's especially true if you're a team member with a boss who roars like a lion, steamrolls like an elephant, or slithers like a snake. Rather than bemoaning your bad-boss fate, try to ditch the idea that your boss is beastly. Begin taming your opinion by thinking about what might be causing your boss's not-so-great behavior.

Consider the source

Odds are, you share boss-related annoyances with other team members—even those who work at practices of different shapes and sizes (see "10 Common Bad Boss Behaviors"). While this may sound surprising, it's not when you consider the legitimate reasons behind most veterinary practice owners' actions. Their bad behavior is usually because they're:

  • Managers by default. "Most veterinarians are bosses because they have the letters after their name and own the practice," says Dr. Craig Woloshyn, owner of Sun Dog Veterinary Consulting in Custer, S.D. "Nowhere in their schooling or work experience, if they have any, have they been prepared for supervising employees, stimulating them, enriching their workplace, helping them apply their skills to make the practice thrive, or forming a team out of disparate personalities. Simply, they never learned how to be a boss, and now they are one."
  • Pummeled by details. Managers often deal with every aspect of the practice, from medical care to team communication. So when they don't focus on what you might wish they did, it's probably because they're handling something else, says Pam Weakley, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and practice manager at Dickman Road Veterinary Clinic in Battle Creek, Mich. "It might be that they're worried about a patient in the ICU or an extra-large electric bill," she says.

And don't forget that for every time you take a problem to your boss, there's a different team member highlighting yet another issue. "Sometimes veterinarians are thinking about all the things on their plate at once and trying to please everyone," Weakley says. "And they're still handling all the medical cases, too."
  • Ruined by misunderstanding. Your idea of inappropriate behavior might not be the same as your manager's—or even your fellow team members' for that matter. So what looks like a problem to you, might seem perfectly normal to your boss, says Sheila Grosdidier, BS, RVT, Firstline Editorial Advisory Board member and a partner at VMC Inc. in Evergreen, Colo. "In these cases, it's all about perception," she says.

Adopt a different view


A couple notes about great managers
As with most things, perception has a lot to do with how you react to your boss's behavior—and perception is a potent remedy. With a little bit of insight, some of your complaints could be erased.

"I once worked with a clinic where the boss would yell, and the team members would yell back," Grosdidier says. "It was very upsetting to some new employees. But it turned out that after so many years of dogs barking and machines whirring, the doctor was hearing impaired. He had to talk loud, and everyone just got comfortable with that. Some of the team members got small earplugs to dim the noise a few decibels."

So when you're feeling cranky about your boss, stop and think about what might be going on with her. Then try to put yourself in her position, Weakley says. "If you've never owned your own business, it's hard to know what it takes to keep a business not only open, but profitable," she says.

Seeing your boss in a different light may be the solution you need, Grosdidier says. "Bosses' actions aren't about you," she says, "they're about them. You aren't going to change the fact that your boss comes in late, so try to let that go." You might be surprised how much better you feel when you just allow some behaviors to slide off your back.