Good boss / bad boss – is it them, or you?

I was reading a LinkedIn discussion recently from someone seeking help for a client who is intimidated by her boss and wanted resources and reading to help. Lots of replies had been posted, mostly along the lines of “bad boss – what needs to be changed is his behaviour”, until someone pointed out that everyone was jumping to the conclusion that the boss was at fault, and maybe the group should think about the client and her contribution to the issue.

What a great point.

When I work with clients who tell me they have difficulty interacting with someone because they feel intimidated, we go to the root of the issue. “Why are you feeling intimidated”? “What is it about this person, or their behaviour that provokes that reaction in you”? What or who does it remind you of”?

Ultimately my client is going into a passive defensive space because they are feeling threatened. If we can unpack why they are feeling threatened, and what behaviour, or interaction pushes their buttons and sends them into that space, we are a long way towards a solution.

One of my clients unpacked her behaviour and realised that when she felt like she didn’t have all the answers, she panicked. Her boss has a critiquing style and a quick mind and my client felt intimidated by her questioning.

When I asked her “What do you think is the worst that will happen when you can’t answer a question”? she was silent for a long time. Finally she said, “Nothing”. I watched the understanding dawn as she realised that the expectations on her were of her own making, not from her boss.

I had another client recently have a huge “a-ha” moment. She said “Oh my god! This person behaves exactly like my mother”!

That was a great piece of insight that helped her enormously. She was then able to separate her emotions about her mother’s behaviour from the situation at hand, and found herself dealing with her boss very differently. She was no longer reacting as a child to an overbearing mother, but as a professional adult.

We continued to work on her understanding of her own behaviours and developing her emotional intelligence. She ended up leaving the organisation for another role, but for all the right reasons, not running away from a difficult boss.

So, when you are dealing with someone that provokes insecurity in you, ask yourself “Why”? What is this telling me about myself”?

Contact Ros for leadership development, coaching and facilitation, or if you have questions about the topics – or visit Shaping Change at

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