Scared of Your Boss? Ask Madeleine

Dear Madeleine,

I am a team lead in the R&D department of a pharmaceutical company. We are all scientists and engineers and the work is interesting and fun. I really like managing my team and they seem to be happy with me.

My problem is that my new boss is just awful. We loved our former boss; he was kind and smart and took us to new levels of creativity and problem solving. The new guy—we all call him the “Ice King”—came in from the outside and doesn’t seem to care about any of us. He is cold and mean.

I dread being in meetings with him. He walks in right on time and hands out the agenda, which he sends in advance with clear instructions about who should prepare what. He never smiles, never laughs. When he is okay with something, he just nods his head with a frown on his face. If he disagrees or, God forbid, catches an error, he looks thunderous and says, “That’s incorrect, fix that.”

Most managers I have worked with have one-on-one meetings with their people. I do them with my team, but honestly, my boss is so off-putting that I am grateful he doesn’t have them with me. I dread the performance review I have coming up in a few months.

How can we get him to lighten up and be nicer?

Scared of My Boss

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Dear Scared of My Boss,

You can’t. Okay, you could try, but it probably isn’t worth your time and energy. You can’t really fix people. People can change—but in my experience, it is rare, and they need a really compelling reason.

You will have a much better result if you put your attention on changing yourself.

Here is the thing, Scared—you are taking your boss’s behavior personally when, in fact, it has absolutely nothing to do with you. You miss your former warm and fuzzy boss. I get that. And I am sorry for your loss. But your new boss just sounds like a personality that is way down on the “introverted and analytical” end of the continuum. IT. ISN’T. PERSONAL.

So what would happen for you if you told yourself that the Ice King is super analytical, is only interested in accuracy and facts, has zero people skills, and is probably mystified by all of his direct reports who are wanting him to be something he is not?

It doesn’t actually sound like there’s anything to be afraid of except maybe showing up with anything but impeccable work. And even then, it sounds like he will simply point out your mistakes so you can fix them. Ice King is at least offering you clarity, consistency, and certainty. Those are good things.

The minute you stop wishing Ice King would be different, just accept that he is the way he is, and let that be okay and not about you, you will feel a lot better. At least you know where you stand with people like this. Just the facts, ma’am. No politics, no hidden agendas; just get the work done, accurately, on time and under budget.

Prepare diligently for your performance review. Make sure it is well thought through, comprehensive, and above all, correct. You will be fine. Once you stop judging him, he might just surprise you.

You clearly prefer a warm and fun, collegial atmosphere. Fine, you can nurture those things within the culture of your team. They aren’t important to your new boss, and that’s okay. There’s a big difference between a real problem and something you don’t like. This is only a problem if you decide to let it be one.

Love, Madeleine

About the Author

Madeleine Homan Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.

Got a question for Madeleine? Email Madeleine and look for your response here next week!

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