Why Not Tell Your Boss He’s Driving You Crazy?

CourageFrom the blogs I’ve read, many people are unhappy at work. We complain about bosses, and organisations, that drive us crazy. They don’t make sense, they ignore the reality of getting the job done, they say one thing but do another, they are impatient but refuse to give us the resources we need … the list goes on. So why do we put up with it? Why do we settle for the irritation, the angst, the unhappiness?

Last year I left my husband of thirty years, it was the most painful decision I have ever made. For three years I was desperately unhappy, complained about him, blamed him, tried to resolve the conflicts… and, once I chose to leave, I felt like a failure. But then a friend – someone I respect and admire – said ‘That must have taken a lot of courage‘. I was shocked, I didn’t see myself as a courageous person, leaving was not a courageous act in my book.

This one comment changed my perspective, it sent me on a search for meaning, what does it mean to live courageously?

My search for courage led me to this: ‘Dare to be my true self, in spite of my fears‘. Hmm, so what does that mean for me? It means going beyond the fears that lead me to play small in relationships, at work and at home. To let myself go beyond the fear of what others will think, beyond the fear of how they might react, beyond the fear of the unknown.

I can’t wish the fears away, so I must act right for me in their presence. In other words, to be happy I must have the courage to be vulnerable to the fear, to say “I love you” and risk rejection, to be joyful and risk looking a fool… to seek peace and be seen as a failure in my marriage.

Everything worth having in my life entails a risk. When I permit my fears to rule me, my life lacks the richness and colour I long for. In the end it comes down to having the courage of my own convictions and at the same time exposing myself, being vulnerable, to the possibility it may not work out…. I may fail.

What are we afraid of? 
Back to the horrible bosses, the sick organisations. Ask yourself, what is the risk I avoid when I decide not to tell the boss he (or she) is driving me crazy? Why do we only express what we really think about our organisations within the safe waters of ‘private’ conversations? We tolerate our unhappiness for good reason. After all, it makes sense to avoid the angry or dismissive reaction we expect; to keep our peace in case we jeopardise our promotion, even our job. We hold on to our belief that taking the risk is pointless, we predict nothing will change.

How do we know our predictions are correct? The outcomes we expect cannot be proved to be true or false, at least not until we test it in real life. And that takes courage. It can be harder to take the first step, to open the conversation, than to live with the frustrations and pain. In giving voice to our true thoughts and feelings, we make ourselves vulnerable to failure, to the possibility of our worst imaginings being proved right. It’s true, the worst may happen…

But, it’s also possible that in taking the risk we find a little less pain, a little more happiness. What we predicted for ourselves may not come true; we may be surprised at what unfolds. My boss may get angry when I confront him or her. I may lose my promotion. But they may also make changes for the better, see me as a ‘go getter’ and give me the promotion. Or I might realise how important the issue is for me and make another choice… but I can’t know until I take the first – risky – step.

A hidden gift…
Whatever the outcome of my own efforts in the last year, as I stretch myself into greater vulnerability, I stand taller in my own estimation. And so I will do it again, and again, and again. The secret gift of my search for courage? Opening up to wholehearted Technicolor living, moment by moment.

My little nephew Leo was given the chance to touch a snake recently … he told me, ‘I was afraid it would bite me, but it didn’t, it felt warm and smooth.’ His smile told me he was proud, he had felt the fear and done it anyway.

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About the author

Cathy is Axialent’s Managing Partner. She leads the UK & Nordic market as well as our Culture Practice, with an eye on continuously developing and improving our approach to culture transformation journeys. She has a passion for pulling the right levers for change, identifying what a company can do to shift to a higher-performing culture. Read more >

8 thoughts

  1. Thank you so much for all your lovely and interesting comments, each of you has added yet more depth to my understanding of what courage means to our lives and work… and more colour to my week for sure. I feel encouraged to keep sharing too, I do so love the feeling that we are all in this dialogue together…

  2. This piece has completely opened my eyes. I perhaps assumed too easily that my companies management team had all the answers AND that was why they held those positions. I accepted their policies and did not communicate my ideas for fear of looking foolish. I have spent too much time “assuming” that systems are in place after many years of testing and adjustment. Not so at all! The mysterious room where this policies are decided does not really exist and as an employee it is in fact my duty to question them and offer any improvements that I can find. Reading this blog has opened up a whole new creative side to my thought processes as I realise these are VERY valuable to the company. There is no need for fear when we listen to our intelligent and logical selves. Thank you for your inspiring writing!

  3. Beautiful post Cathy! The timing is perfect… I have been needing an office for some time now but fear (that the business may not make money, that I may “fail” to support this expense etc.) has been holding me back… Until yesterday – when I decided to finally bite the bullet and look for one. It is never easy to open yourself up to failure – but courage is a conscious choice which we all can make.

    See you soon

    Andrea

  4. Great article Cathy! I am preparing for a team event next week where one of the issues for the team members is how to sustain themselves, whilst under huge pressure and risk of failure over the long term. This article hit the nail on the head. It also helps me. The statement about anything worth having also has a risk, really resonates. We can drive ourselves nuts wanting things in life but trying to be risk free at the same time. For me it is another example of one foot on the accelerator and another on the break at the same time. Thanks very much. Please keep the blogs coming. Brian

  5. Cathy, this is beautiful! Even the act of writing this is an embrace of the vulnerability you are talking about. Tying your own narrative to the process of challenging others (individuals and/or organizations) to live in wholehearted Technicolor is brave and persuasive. Of course, if more of our leaders (and bosses) could embark on such a journey, then the world of organizations would be much more whole and balanced. It’s tough, for sure, to get started. For a busy business leader, it may seem like too steep a climb, given that it takes, above all, consistency and vulnerability. What is so powerful about your message is that this isn’t so much about work and organizations as much as it is about Life. Unless the whole of life is lived in Technicolor, one’s work life is just a performance for others consumption. Your example shows that, even in the most difficult of situations, it is possible to breakthrough to courage and strength. There are countless books out there about leadership, but so many of them are empty. What you display here IS leadership. Leadership with a capital ‘L.’

  6. Hi Cathy, I found the post very insightful. I thought that relating it to your personal life really brought the point home. And was in itself courageous. Reflecting about your actions in terms of how courageous they are in this sense I think is a good measure of how connected you are with yourself. Thanks!

  7. Beautifully written and with a powerful message – one I completely identify with … When I do the thing I dare not, I feel a little bit more proud, life is brighter and my future seems full of adventure and possibility… and when I rationalise, to perfection, and don’t ‘do’, I feel a little bit smaller and life gets a little bit smaller too.
    I have a couple of quotes I use to entice myself into feeling (as brave as I can feel and then considering a little bit more – lovely phrase julianb!)…
    ‘If it looks like a long leap – leap long!’
    ‘Do it trembling if you must, but do it!’ because, ‘Life either shrinks or expands, according to our courage’… and who wants and ordinary life?????
    I also sometimes call upon my 22 year old self – she was awesome -( I didn’t realise it then tho !!) to help me find the right frame of mind and be bigger than I feel…
    Hmmm… so now … there is probably several things that I am totally ‘not doing’ that I could be doing… best pick one and get that 22 year working this afternoon….
    Thanks fro the inspiration Cathy
    Karen F

  8. You’re right, of course. Life is not a dress rehearsal. But a key part of taking risks is understanding the value of what you might lose.

    I would look at this through Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – and depending on what our responsibilities and commitments are – we inevitably want to secure the foundation levels of physiological and safety needs; the loss of love and belonging could have appreciable impact too.

    As I have got older – and with the realisation that I am not going to be progressing my career much more – I have found it easier to be honest and raise the “you’re driving me crazy” things with bosses/colleagues. It’s a much lower risk (and I’ve virtually paid off my mortgage). The impact of things going wrong on others I feel responsible for feels like the greatest risk.

    As you say the first – risky – step is the important one (didn’t Mao say something on similar lines?), so perhaps we need to be as brave as we feel we can be, and then consider doing a bit more. Hard to break habits of a lifetime though.

    I am very proud of your courage. Bless you, old friend.

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