Q: I work for a small firm and have been losing confidence in our leadership. My boss doesn’t stay focused and isn’t helpful with the challenges I face; in general, he’s hard to work for. Other aspects of my job are OK, but not fabulous. Is it time to look elsewhere?
Jonas, 44, operations director
A: Take stock before moving forward so that you get an improvement, not just change for change’s sake.
What do you want in a boss? Consider your past bosses, the best ones and the worst ones, and prioritize the characteristics that are most important to you. Beyond your boss, you probably have a vision of your preferred professional life. Spend some time thinking about that, envisioning the type of environment and tasks you would be doing. If you haven’t really thought about that, now is the time to start!
Now compare your ideals to your current situation. Try to set some of the emotion aside so that you are not demonizing him over minor annoyances. At the same time, though, don’t discount your feelings. Consider whether this is a new feeling or if it’s been building over a longer period of time.
Look at what you would lose if you left. To what extent are there relationships, challenges, or contributions you make that would be wrenching to leave? Weigh these against the potential gains.
Then think about the company as a whole. Especially for a small firm, one failing leader can be devastating to the company’s well-being. If financial performance is suffering or morale is declining more broadly, these would be important warning signs for you.
At the same time, deciding to stay, at least for a while longer, doesn’t mean you have to accept the status quo. If you have a candid relationship with your boss, consider giving feedback on ways that you would like your work life to improve. The more specific you can be, the more likely you will be to get your needs met. This approach can be especially helpful if you are looking for new challenges. Your boss may not realize that your work has gotten stale, and making concrete suggestions of ways you would like to step up could open new doors for you.
Recognize that your boss may not be able to address all of your concerns. For example, you may want to work for someone who is skilled at mentoring and development. If your boss can’t meet this need, look for other ways to get this need met. For example, you may ask him to fund a professional coach, or you could look for a mentor outside of your workplace.
If, upon reflection, you have decided it really is time to move on, be deliberate in your search.
Get the word out through your network (cautiously, of course) and watch for new opportunities. It’s amazing how much openness to change can lead to new possibilities. Just be sure you are not just fleeing — find a new role that you are excited about and that will move you forward.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.