Almost everyone in corporate America (and beyond) can relate to having to deal with a boss or another organizational leader who lacked self-awareness. Leaders who are oblivious to their own negative impact on colleagues derail organizational effectiveness.
What are your alternatives?
Quit. It is said that people join companies but leave bosses. But what if you really enjoy your work and your coworkers, and don't want to leave the company? Besides, what happens next time you finds yourself in the same situation?
Grin and bear it. This solution creates a pressure-cooker scenario. Accepting the situation as-is does nothing to solve what is most likely a real problem that is affecting your performance. It is not going to fix itself, no matter how many subtle hints you drop.
Tell HR. In my experience, HR will recommend that you address your issues directly with your boss. HR will not be able to affect any change in your boss's behavior without bringing up specific examples. Plus, your boss is probably going to take it out on the team if an anonymous complaint is filed. (If your boss is involved in unethical or illegal behavior, by all means tell HR.)
Exact revenge. If you think this is a viable option, please contact your Employee Assistance Program or another mental health professional and get some help before something bad happens.
Provide feedback. Having a conversation with the leader in question is the only solution that might improve the situation and allow you to keep your job - even if it seems like the most difficult alternative. So how do you respectfully inform your boss that he is negatively affecting your or the company's performance?
10 Tips for Giving Leaders Feedback:
1. Stop the name-calling and talking behind his back about it (and griping on public forums!). It only serves to destroy your own integrity, and it fuels your rage.
2. Realize that the "clueless" leader is the norm, not the outlier. The higher up in the organization you are, the less people tell you what you don't want to hear. And you don't notice the change.
3. Get clear about what the real issue is. If you've been working with this boss for a while, chances are that everything he says is annoying. Take a step back to understand what really needs to be addressed. If it still seems like a lot of things, choose the most important. You don't want to generate a laundry list or it will seem like an attack.
4. Make sure you are in the right frame of mind for an effective conversation. Approach it with a genuine perspective that you are trying to help your boss, or at least doing the best thing for the company. If you go into the conversation seeking to right a wrong or to exact some kind of revenge, not only will your boss be more defensive during the conversation, but it will be more awkward afterward.
5. Plan when you will have the conversation. You don't necessarily have to schedule it with your boss, but know ahead of time for yourself when and where you will talk.
6. At the beginning of the conversation, ask permission to give the feedback. It is unlikely that he will say "no," and after saying "yes" he at least needs to hear what you have to say.
7. Unless you have permission to represent a group, don't drag other people into it. It might be comfortable to make yourself seem like one of many, but from the boss's point of view, that's a mutiny.
8. Be honest and direct. Tell your boss the experience from your perspective, and what the implications are. Use specific examples.
9. Expect your boss to be defensive. He may deny it or even turn it around to be your own fault. Don't become defensive yourself. If you feel that you've made your case, thank him for letting you share your perspective and politely end the conversation.
10. Thank him for listening (even if it seems like he didn't). If the conversation went well, ask how you can best follow up.
Providing feedback is difficult, especially when the recipient is higher on the org chart than you. I certainly can't guarantee results. But isn't it worth a try? After all, if your boss really is "clueless," then someone needs to give him a clue. You just might get thanked for your honesty and courage.