Managing Boss-Related Stressors


Most leadership development articles focus on our relationship between ourselves and those who report to us.  Much less attention is focused on how to manage stressors that affect the dynamic with our boss.

One of the greatest challenges of managing the stressors with our boss is understanding that s/he often holds the key to our ability to move up in the company.

It’s hard NOT to pay attention to that!

So as we examine the challenges of managing the stressors in our relationship with our supervisor, we must be mindful of that dynamic.

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Common Stressors

How to gain the respect and support of our boss is a common stressor.

Q: question

How can we utilize our leadership mindfulness to reduce the stress of this critical relationship?

A: answer

By being aware that his/her approval of us is important, we can ask ourselves some fundamental questions about the relationship.

Understanding Time

Working long hours is a default strategy of many up-and-coming leaders who want to push their way up the occupational ladder. However, more and more executives are beginning to understand that maintaining an appropriate work/life balance reduces stress and keeps happy employees stable in their roles.

By working 60+ hours per week, we are indicating to our boss that this is acceptable and are committing to that type of schedule going forward. One of our greatest stressors can be our perception that “there just aren’t enough hours in the day” to do everything that our boss expects us to do.

Time is the stressor with which we wrestle most often.

We often blame “feeling stressed” on not having enough time. In mindfulness practice, we learn about the impermanence of so many things – joy, love, jealousy, even life! There are so few permanent things that when they reveal themselves we must pay attention to them (e.g., gravity!). Time is permanent. There are always twenty-four hours in a day so the phrase “there aren’t enough hours in the day” is an oxymoron.

Clearly the issue is more about how the time is spent.

Working Smarter

More questions…

  • So, if working smarter is valued more than working longer, what else can we pay attention to that will reduce the stress of the boss-employee relationship?
  • If you are one of many direct reports to your boss, how do you stand out among the crowd and why is that important to do?
  • Are you willing to take on the tougher challenges when the opportunities present themselves or are you content with fitting in?

Above all else, your boss wants you to help him/her to be successful and hopefully, in turn, the company.

Mindfully assessing your willingness to step up in the face of risk is usually a key to creating a level of respect needed to reduce stress in that relationship.

As we pay attention to how we feel about taking risks, we can ask ourselves questions that will help us decide how to proceed:

  • If I take on this project and fail, what impact will it have on my relationship with my boss?  Is my self-confidence where it needs to be to be successful with this project? How transparent can I be about these self-confidence issues with my boss?  In his terrific article, 10 Rules to Manage Your Boss, Jacque Horovitz discusses how trust is built with your boss by managing expectations and not biting off more than you can chew.
  • Do I feel my boss supports me? If not, what do I base that feeling on? Is that the best way of judging his/her confidence in my abilities? What am I choosing to do with these feelings?
  • When was the last time I asked for feedback from my boss? What am I afraid s/he might say? How will I feel if those things are said and what will I do with that information?

Mindful Leaders

I have observed many mindful leaders with high emotional intelligence describe themselves as “processors” or “analyzers”.  Regardless of the label, self-awareness (as per Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence) is a critical indicator of mindfulness in leadership.

Understanding your style of leadership and how it differs from that of your boss, allows us to explore those variances and, in the best case scenario, both you and s/he can explore how to manage those variances transparently so both of you can drive positive results for the company.

At the very least, leading in equanimity allows us to be aware of the differences in all interactions so that we can better manage any resulting stressors.

Finally, we must pay attention to how our work is aligned with the vision of our boss.

The Boss’ Vision

Being mindful on this level includes asking ourselves how each task we complete promotes our boss’s vision and, if the answer is unclear, we can respond to that stressor by checking in with the boss for better understanding.

Not only will this ensure that we are using our time wisely but also reminds your boss of your commitment to the vision for the company.

Final questions…

  • What strengths do you and your boss share and how can you leverage that overlap?
  • To what extent can you be transparent and demonstrate vulnerability with your boss?  What solid evidence led you to that conclusion and what are the risks you haven’t taken in your relationship with your boss (e.g., offering input that may be at odds)?
  • Do you proactively request performance feedback from your boss and genuinely utilize it in a way that demonstrates value to the company?  Is your boss aware that you routinely seek this type of feedback from others, including peers and direct reports?
  • What do you expect from your direct reports that you could improve in your own performance?  Does your boss now and support your ongoing development goals as a leader?  Do you know what your boss’s development goals are and your role in supporting them?
  • When your frustration with your boss hits critical mass, how do you mindfully observe your stressors in a detached manner that gives you enough distance to work on solutions?


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Erik Engberg is the Founder of Mindful Solutions 
Erik specializes in mindful leadership online solutions and consulting
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One response to “Managing Boss-Related Stressors

  1. Pingback: Leadership updates for 06/08/2012·

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