Leadership Caffeine™ for the Week of March 30, 2009

A healthy spring snowstorm blanketed the northwest suburbs of Chicago overnight, making the morning cup of coffee particularly relevant as a source of both warmth and energy. 

I’m back with a fresh pound of my favorite fair trade Mexican Roast from a great local roaster aptly named Conscious Cup.  My first contribution to stimulating the economy today is to let you know that these great people ship.

My second contribution is to encourage a renewed sense of personal professional accountability.  Yep, I’m striking a blow against Boss-Blame…that world class sport that so many engage in as part of rationalizing why their own results might just be falling short of something resembling excellence.

Quit Grousing…It’s Wasted Energy!

It’s common for me to hear quite a bit of grousing about the people we work for from attendees at workshops, at client sites or in classes.  And while I don’t doubt that there’s a fair amount of truth in much of the talk about lousy managers and do-nothing exec teams, I truly don’t care and neither should you. 

Do not let the chucklehead that you work for hold you back!  Do not blame the management team for your inability to hit your targets, develop professionally or create a high performance team.  The only one in charge of you is you.

I’ve long since concluded that in spite of our best intentions we have a low probability of fixing most of the bad bosses. Our best bet and your best bet is to develop a multi-pronged approach to the situation.

Suggestions for Overcoming Bad Boss Syndrome:

1. Mitigation.  Sometimes “Bad Boss” syndrome can be mitigated by changing your own behavior.  I’ve observed many situations where the boss has issues and the individuals that report to him or her have no qualms publicly depicting their lack of respect. While that might in some perverted way feel good, it is wrong. 

Try using judo on the situation and increase your efforts to be respectful and helpful and to portray a genuine sense of empathy for the burdens that this individuals bears as a leader and as a person. Hey, no guarantees here, but you’ll be the better person for trying, and it might be you some latitude in the workplace.

2.  Partnering. I work with many different project teams in IT and new product development, and I can predict with near certainty the top reasons that will surface in the post-mortem on failed projects.  You know the issues as well, and yes, most of them have to do with people and leadership.  (An oft-quoted E&Y study indicates that 80% of the reasons associated with poor project performance are tied to people.)

Work on a few project teams, and you can predict the problems like clockwork.  Estimates will be off…people sandbag or play politics.  The matrix gets in the way…people have multiple priorities and are not linked to one team.  The sponsor spends her time jetting around Asia and is never present at critical times to do what a sponsor is supposed to do.  And so on.

What is stopping you from working with your peers to focus your collective energies on eradicating the mostly controllable and predictable problems that bedevil so many teams? Nothing!  If the project manager lacks the leadership savvy to broker resolutions and build a performance culture, jump in along with your peers and help out. Have an ineffective sponsor?  Either educate him or her on the role or seek out a new one.  There are few problems that arise that are dependent upon those upstream. 

3. Your Personal Pursuit of Excellence:

In the final leg of my bad-boss mitigation & you must develop your own sense of accountability rant, this is for all of you first-time or mid-level leaders that are not getting the support and coaching that you genuinely should receive.  Get over it, and make certain that you go to extraordinary lengths to give to your colleagues in spades what you are not receiving from your manager.

Boss not talked to you about career development?  Well, you are in charge of your own career, and oh by the way, nothing is precluding you from working with your team members on their own personal development plans.

Don’t get much feedback on your performance?  That’s unfortunate, but it is not an excuse for you not recognizing that feedback is your most powerful performance tool and practicing it constantly.

Does the boss work hard to protect turf and strengthen silo walls?  Don’t fall into that shortsighted trap.  Become a network broker across organizational boundaries.  Learn and apply the art of lateral leadership and diplomacy. 

The bottom-line

Just as it is common in life for people to hitch their sense of well-being and happiness to the actions and opinions of others, it is common for people to wallow in business misery because of the shortcomings of our leaders.  It’s time to unhitch that wagon and take responsibility for your own business happiness and health.  Get started this week!



By | 2016-10-22T17:12:11+00:00 March 29th, 2009|Career, Leadership Caffeine, Project Management|3 Comments

About the Author:

Art Petty is a coach, speaker and workshop presenter focusing on helping professionals and organizations learn to survive and thrive in an era of change. When he is not speaking, Art serves senior executives, business owners and high potential professionals as a coach and strategy advisor. Additionally, Art’s books are widely used in leadership development programs. To learn more or discuss a challenge, contact Art.


  1. Gwyn Teatro March 29, 2009 at 12:07 pm - Reply

    This is a good reminder that blaming others for the situations we find ourselves in is a complete waste of time.

    We’ve all tried it at one time or another. We blame our parents for, well, everything that ever went wrong for us when we were growing up. We blame our bosses for getting in the way of our opportunities for promotion. And when that doesn’t work, we spend out time looking around for other reasons why we are not where we think we should be.

    I think it is only when we consult the mirror that we find the person who is really getting in our way.

    A very timely message and one that bears repeating from time to time.

  2. Art Petty March 29, 2009 at 1:10 pm - Reply

    Gwyn, thanks for the comment and capturing the essence of the post so effectively. You did it in a few hundred words less than it took me! -Art

  3. David Locke March 29, 2009 at 4:56 pm - Reply

    Stop making excuses. If something isn’t right, what good is an excuse? An excuse can’t change the numbers. Put the efforts into finding a way to make it right.

    “You are not six feet tall. The job description said six feet.”
    “Well, I can’t read.”

    Even where you have a perfectly great excuse like some dependency not being met on time can’t change the numbers.

    “Team A didn’t get this too us, so we will be two weeks late.”
    “So, I’ll tell the financial markets that we will meet our estimate two weeks into the next quarter?

    Did you buy lunch, dinner, breakfast, and midnight snaks for Team A? Did you rollback your codebase, so you could ship without the new, new thing? Did you create some other value to compensate for the absence of Team A’s value contribution?

    It always rolls back to being your problem.

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