Let’s hit you with some “big data” right up top on this post, courtesy of here:
Eighty percent of the 1,335 respondents said their boss has a significant weakness that everyone knows and discusses covertly with each other, but not directly with their manager.
This is a hugely common problem at jobs. Some manager sucks. He or she is awful at process, awful at explaining work, awful at motivation, pretty much awful at life when we get right down to it. Every single person on the team knows this. They all talk, text, Slack, and happy hour about it.
And yet … but …
… no one says a thing to the actual boss, and he/she goes on blissfully unaware and, oftentimes, thinking they are the best boss in human history.
Why does this happen so much?
On the employee side: People want jobs because jobs are tied to income. When you pipe up at a job, all you do is sign up for the layoff list. That’s pretty much how hierarchy works. It keeps anger and frustration and real growth in check because if you vent or say anything bad, you are usually the first one gone. (Not at all places, but at many.) I worked a job last year that had a revenue rough patch and had to lay about 10–12 people off. Who do you think went first? Yep, the people who actually voiced the issues — and ironically, they were voicing issues that caused revenue to decline. WOW! Work is largely about control and compliance. If you don’t understand that, you’re missing something.
On the higher boss side: Why are bad bosses allowed to persist when everyone knows they’re a bad boss? Because it doesn’t matter so long as they are filling a role of (a) getting shit off the plate of the high bosses, (b) making trains run so high bosses can talk about money, © they are friends with or play golf with the high bosses, (d) “whatever, we’re making money, right” or (e) all of the above. In short: it does not matter how good a boss is in the context of his/her direct reports, typically. It matters that said boss, in said seat, is playing a role for the levels above said boss. If the role is being played properly, they can be a horrible people manager and no one will ever do anything. Why would you? Larry makes the damn train runs, yo.
A funny 2015 or so story
Got drunk at a Vegas hotel with some consultants. As we got drunk, it came out that these very consultants had, well, consulted for a place I used to work. So one consultant, who is on maybe his fifth whiskey soda, tells me this story.
My CEO at that job had seven direct reports. Consultant brings all seven into a room, puts a baseball cap there. Says: write down two positive things and one negative thing about the CEO. Anonymous. Drop ’em in the hat. Shake the hat. So the consultant goes up, and invites the CEO to the front of the room.
First slip he pulls from the hat? Positive. CEO beams.
Second slip? Positive.
Third slip? Positive.
Fourth slip? AH-HA! The first negative one.
Consultant drunkenly tells me that the CEO launches off his chair and is like “Who wrote that? Who thinks that? That’s not true! I demand to know!”
And this is why people are generally afraid of being honest and giving that type of feedback. You complain up a chain? Again, usually the result is (a) you get canned or (b) you get kept in the “bad employee” or “complainer” box for five years. Neither one helps you buy more ketchup, ya know?
Is there a way to give honest feedback up a chain?
If the bosses are self-aware and you have some social capital with them, then yes. That is literally the only way, however.
Boss who is not self-aware? It will backfire on you.
Boss where you lack social capital? You ain’t getting anything.
Conversation that’s seen as an impediment to how “slammed” the boss is? He/she is not listening.
Even a conversation with specific examples and how you felt? Again, you will be viewed as a bad apple/complainer/etc. You will be locked into a pay grade for years while others, who are incompetent but never pipe up, shall advance beyond you. That is the way of the samurai in white-collar work.
So, in short, can you offer true feedback to someone that out-ranks you? Only in very, very, very, very specific situations, and with a lot of care and delicacy. Otherwise you just stagnated your own career.