You’re on fire.

Brimming with great ideas. You see possibilities and want to act on them with gusto.

Your boss?

Not so much. Entrenched in the status quo. Not a lot of urgency. Reluctant to try new things.

What a frustrating place to be! You feel like a rabbit working for a snail. How do you get past this? How do you work effectively with a passive boss?

First, try to understand why your boss is so passive. Here are two key questions to consider:

  1. How does your boss see the world? Do you know your boss’s personality type?  Perhaps he is naturally cautious and works at a more moderate pace. In the language of Everything DiSC® he may be a classic “C” (Conscientious) style. If you are an I (Influencer) or D (Dominant) style you’re in a situation where you see the possibilities and have an intense drive for results, where your boss sees the risk and has a need for caution and research. If you’ve done assessments, take some time to review them to see where you and your boss see the world similarly and differently. If you haven’t done an assessment, then proactively invite the boss to join you in taking one. Here’s a sample DiSC comparison report that shows differences between two people on a continuum. It’s a great conversation tool to explore how you can work together better.
  1. How does your organization treat failure? Give some thought to the culture of your organization. How do they respond to failure? If it isn’t tolerated in the organization then your boss may be fearful for good reason. Organizations with a growth mindset understand failure is inevitable, and they seek to squeeze as much learning from each failure as possible. Ideally people are encouraged to fail fast and fail forward. But if the organization is not at this level of maturity it may punish risk takers. And so, your boss may want to do more research, be more certain, or just stick with status quo.

How can you be effective? Here are a few ideas:

  • Speak with empathy. Preface an idea with “This might seem risky at first, but I have this idea…” Speak aloud whatever they might be feeling. It has an amazing way of dissipating fear. Most important, it can help the boss suspend judgment long enough to really hear your idea.
  • Put risk under the spotlight. If your boss is the type that wants things well researched, show him you’ve done the research. “I know that if we do x it could cause y but from my perspective the reward could be well worth the risk. Here’s why….”
  • Mitigate the risk. Show your boss specific ways you can increase the likelihood of success. Give them data, not just intuition.
  • Give them time to mull the idea over. People who are cautious often resist feeling rushed. Tell the boss when you’ll reach back out for an answer on a specific date, thus keeping the ball in your court.
  • Ask what they think. Then listen well. Make sure he/she knows your desire is to be helpful. Don’t put them on the defensive. A good, open ended question might be “How can we make this work?”

It can be super frustrating to work with a leader who seems unmovable. And passive bosses can be detrimental to an organization. But you can overcome this. Give these ideas a try and make your mark!

Would you benefit from a DiSC comparison report with your boss?

We offer assessments as well as individual or joint coaching sessions to help you work better together. We even help entire teams work more effectively. Contact us to see how we can support you!

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