I had an interesting discussion today with someone who was frustrated by a lack of support from their boss. This person would like to try out a new idea, but has been unable to gain the support they’d like. We’ve all been there, haven’t we?
Often, I see that this stalemate is due to having the wrong kinds of expectations:
- You want your boss to support the idea before it’s fully cooked.
- Your boss wants you to continue focusing on the job he defined for you, and to become increasingly productive.
- You want your boss to share the risk of a new idea, rather than shouldering it all yourself.
- Your boss doesn’t want to disrupt whatever predictability and consistency he’s been able to achieve.
When you’re in this situation, it’s hard to see how to break out of the impasse. You believe your boss holds the power, but has little incentive to change and take any risk.
It doesn’t have to be a big risk, either. Let’s say that you’d like to adjust your workday 15 minutes later so that travel is more convenient. But your boss might just see how this affects the others in the group – maybe others would want to start exercising even larger schedule flexibility. Maybe it requires some change in group meetings, or how work schedules are created. All of a sudden, the boss has a whole list of reasons to reject your request. And you’re increasingly frustrated, especially because this seemed to be such a trivial request.
Here’s a number of things you can do when you’re looking to get support for a new idea:
- You can just go ahead and do it anyway. Of course, this means that you’re accepting some new risks for changing your behavior. But if you have some freedom in your job, and the idea might be within the scope of that job, do you really need permission in advance?
- You can use your own time and resources. Depending on how large your idea is and what you need to advance it, many times you’ll be able to make progress if you don’t need your boss to give you resources.
- You can get educated. The case will be more compelling if you know what you’re talking about, and you can show successful examples in similar contexts.
- You can start working on addressing your boss’s concerns. Many times a manager will be unsure about whether she has freedom to make the decision, which means you need to understand her context and help address those issues. Even if those concerns seem illogical to you, if they’re real to your manager, they’re real.
There’s lots of things you can do to advance an idea. So get started! Even baby steps forward are still moving in the right direction.