Let’s say you’re sailing along in your leadership role. Everything’s good, right? Well, everything except one little thing … your boss. Somehow your boss, who was an absolute rock of stability, has gone off the rails. Over the last several months, she’s gone from being a trusted advisor to the CEO to teetering on the brink of irrelevance. If your boss is seen as ineffective, that’s a problem. So what do you do about it?
Simply put, you need to ask if you can help, tell her what you’re noticing, and provide some feedback and coaching. Start by asking about her world in your next 1:1 meeting. You can do this directly or indirectly – direct questions are as simple as: “how are things between you and the senior team these days”? or “how’s everything going with the CEO?” Indirectly, you can broach the subject with questions such as: “what’s on your mind today”? Or “what’s keeping you up at night?” The point is to get her talking about her job, her boss, or the company. If she doesn’t want to talk about it in this meeting, that’s OK; you’ve established an interest in her well-being, and can come back to these questions next time. Eventually she may begin to confide in you.
If she does respond, ask about her emotions, feelings and reactions. Literally, ask: “how are feeling about that?” This is a perfectly legitimate question that doesn’t get asked enough “up the chain” (bosses are people, too). At this point, you may get more than you bargained for, but once you go down this path, stick with it. You’ve just crossed over into being a confidant or sounding board, and your opportunity to provide feedback is right around the corner.
This is where you share what you’re noticing about her attitude or behaviors. Be straightforward, mature and professional, and speak from your own experiences or observations. Don’t say: “I’ve heard” or “someone told me” – that’s not productive or well grounded. This has to be what you’ve observed…this is your first-hand feedback. You might offer: “I’ve noticed lately that you have been upset with Bill” (cite examples) or “I know you didn’t feel fully prepared for that presentation last week” or “it seems to me that the Finance group is ignoring you on this issue – what do you think?”. Tell her what you’re noticing and feeling – if it’s delivered well, she’ll be interested and want to hear more. Essentially, you’re creating an opening to share meaningful feedback. Your responsibility as a leader is to step up and take the direct approach to help her get back on track.
By taking a genuine interest in her well-being and offering your unfiltered but constructive feedback, you’ll get the issues out on the table. Then, use your coaching skills to help her work through some solutions. Ask her: “what options are you considering?” or “how are you going to approach Bill about this?” or “what’s your next move?” The idea is to start brainstorming with her about ways to turn things around. Obviously, if you have some thoughts or ideas on how to fix things, this is where you bring them out. But stay in coaching mode first – ask a lot of questions. Give her someone to talk to, and guide her to an honest assessment of the situation.
Giving feedback to the boss isn’t your primary job, but occasionally it’s a necessary part of being a leader. In a way, telling your boss what you really think might be the best thing you could ever do for her. Isn’t that what leadership is all about? Helping others…even if that someone happens to be your boss!