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For job satisfaction, find your boss-culture fit

Know what you need in a boss and the work environment, Nancy Napier says.
Know what you need in a boss and the work environment, Nancy Napier says. Chicago Tribune

Many leaders look for “culture fit” when hiring new employees. Recruits likewise should assess whether they feel comfortable with an organization’s culture. But what about another aspect: “boss-employee” culture fit?

A successful leader said years ago that “people don’t leave organizations, people leave people, and especially bosses.”

He meant that when an employee reaches the point where she “can’t take it any more,” most often she’s frustrated with her boss, not necessarily with the whole organization. Some of the typical complaints preceding the decision are that a manager doesn’t hold others accountable, cannot set a direction or does not listen.

This begs the question: If it’s important to have an “organization employee culture fit” for employees, should we also have a “boss employee” fit?

We may assume that the boss culture fit needs to be only temporary, while you’re in a specific job, or that you can move from one boss to another. But in a smaller organization, with little upward movement, or in an organization where you’re close to the top and the likelihood of your boss leaving is slim, then you have a longer-term problem.

So what’s an employee to do?

If the situation is truly untenable, one option is indeed leaving — but that’s time consuming, risky and may land a person in another not-good situation.

Before that big step, what else is possible? Here are two thoughts:

1. Know what you need in a boss and the work environment.

If you’ve worked for different bosses, you’ll know that you perform better under some than others. Why? What environments are ones you thrived under? Consider those elements when you look for a new boss.

Then, help your current boss understand how to motivate you to support better performance. If an open office reduces your ability to focus, request access to private space or find ways to drown the distraction (e.g., earplugs).

2. Train your boss.

Some try “upward training” or “managing the manager.” If you want more guidance, ask the boss to explain her vision to your whole unit. Or, if you want more direct feedback, request — and set up — regular (monthly) coffee meetings.

In essence, control what you can, understand what makes you thrive, and in the worst case, move on.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor, Boise State University;