A few years ago, Gallup surveyed over 1 million employees in the USA and found that the #1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. You’re probably nodding your head right now thinking that the statistic doesn’t surprise you at all.

The study also found that 75% of workers who left voluntarily did so because of their bosses and not because of the job itself. The bottom line is that bosses cast a long shadow and are the primary determinant of the overall employee experience on the job. Why? Because sh!t flows downhill.

Difficulties flow from the top of the organisation to the bottom, and middle managers and line staff often end up feeling like they’re drowning in it.

What if I told you that instead of spreading it around, there’s a way that you could stem the flow?

The answer lies in situational awareness.

Situational Awareness

“The absence of situational awareness in leadership can be a threat to our effectiveness and career.”            

[Lee Ellis, Retired US Airforce Colonel]

In a combat context, the military uses situational awareness to refer to the ability to see what’s in the vicinity and anticipate what’s not. This is knowledge that can mean the difference between surviving or being killed in action. Fighter pilots use their situational awareness to navigate what’s happening with the aircraft itself, flight conditions, and hostile activity. While the stakes are not literally that high in the typical corporate environment, it often feels like figuratively the case is the same.

A manager with situational awareness constantly monitors what’s going on at all levels in the organisation, but it doesn’t stop there. They also monitor and regulate what’s happening within themselves. For this reason, you can think of situational awareness and Emotional Intelligence as peanut butter and jelly – they just naturally go together.

Managers below the top of the organisational chart can stem the flow of sh!t and avoid spreading it to their peers and direct reports by leveraging situational awareness to inform decision-making and actions at three distinct levels:

  1. Managing the boss
  2. Managing direct reports
  3. Managing self

1.      Managing the Boss

If you want to show up as being a savvy leader and someone who knows how to navigate difficult terrain without getting blown to pieces, learn how to manage your boss. Make it your business to understand the boss as well as the pressures that they are facing and the expectations that they are expected to fulfil.  When you’ve done that, then the hard work begins.

Having figured out the lay of the land, your next step is to get on the same page by aligning your actions with those expectations. This includes scanning both the internal and external environments for threats and proactively flagging them and proposing ways to pre-empt the looming challenges.

This approach can take the wind out of the sails of the most ornery of bosses, as it positions you as an ally rather than an obstacle or an adversary.

2.      Managing Direct Reports

Middle managers are expected to champion and promulgate decisions handed down from on high – whether you are in personal agreement or not. Those efforts are often rewarded with the wrath of line staff who view you as uncaring agents of an even more uncaring establishment.

In view of the foregoing, it is very tempting to step aside and let the sh!t continue to flow downhill. The inevitable outcome of that course of action is that you will endear yourself to exactly no one and be perceived by all as ineffective and a traitor to boot.

With proper situational awareness combined with emotional intelligence, you can ensure that your direct reports understand the mission and how their actions contribute to it. You communicate in a manner that is intentional and authentic – including letting them know what you don’t know – and designed to persuade and influence rather than manipulate.

3.      Managing Self

“Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they are in a completely different world from the one we live in.

You are never responsible for the actions of others; you are only responsible for you. When you truly understand this, and refuse to take things personally, you can hardly be hurt by the careless comments or actions of others.”                                                                                                                   

[Don Miguel Ruiz]

The first order of business is to understand that – whatever the challenge is – it’s not about you! So go ahead and feel your feelings. Then remind yourself that they are information not directives or marching orders.

Make a conscious decision about what outcome you want for yourself in the given situation. In order to achieve that outcome who do you need to be, and what do you need to do. Then let that situational awareness inform your actions.

So, what say you – are you ready to do your part to end the scourge of the bad boss?

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