Have you ever had this experience? You like your role and responsibilities, at least most of the time. You like the company you work for, believe in its mission, and consider it to be a decent employer. And you like your colleagues too. But your boss just leaves you cold. You don’t feel any sense of connection, and you’re not feeling motivated by them or what they’re trying to do. Worst of all, your boss doesn’t even notice that you feel this way!
This kind of situation is demoralizing, whether you think your boss seems to be heading in the wrong strategic direction, or you just wish you had a boss you could love because you know that you work much better that way.
Let’s assume that your boss is not a bad person, but just doesn’t inspire your loyalty or drive. You still have plenty of opportunity to rev your own engine and get yourself going. So instead of feeling sorry for yourself or checking out — and certainly before you think about leaving for another team or a different organization — experiment with these two ways of reevaluating and acting upon the situation and see if they change your calculus.
Connect with Your Boss as a Person
Try to get to know your boss better as an individual. What motivates them? What do you and they have in common in any aspect of work or life? Get curious — politely, of course — about how they chose this career, came to this job, arrived at this company, etc. It’s a lot easier to raise the level of your regard for someone you know more about, have things in common with, or at least understand better. The goal is to discover that your boss is someone you might actually care a little about.
Spend more time with your boss if you can get it — and if you can’t, then work at getting it. Familiarity will make your boss more likely to share their thoughts with you and become more receptive to your thoughts. That creates a virtuous loop: When you both give greater consideration to each other’s concerns, you can work better together for the same purpose and toward the same goals.
Consider making an actual declaration of support for your boss so it’s clear that you’re fully committed to what they’re trying to accomplish and that it’s your intention to contribute helpfully to their plans and activities. They’re more likely to respond positively and possibly let you in on their thinking.
Even if your boss is neither a visionary, nor particularly persuasive or engaging, what are the upsides to knowing them? Do they have any skills or capabilities that you’d like to have more of? If so, that can provide a learning opportunity and an opening for building a stronger relationship.
Identify Your Own Agency in the Situation
Imagine that everything is up to you. Do you know where the organization or senior leadership wants your boss, team, and you to achieve and deliver? If you know what your organizational “charge” or purpose is, can you inspire yourself to go after it?
What if your boss were suddenly out sick for a significant period of time? How would you help lead your team’s activities so that things didn’t stagnate in the meantime? If you can determine this trajectory — and if you realize that any of it is different from what your boss seems to be saying — go have a chat with them. Ask leading questions to get a clearer view of your boss’s intentions or propose your alternative approach and make a case for it.
Inquire about how your colleagues are deal with your boss: What can you learn from their feelings about the boss, as well as from the ways they are working together successfully?
In a pinch, are there other leaders in the organization who are inspiring? Pay attention to them for motivation and pay attention to your boss for your tasks.
And go ahead and fantasize: What would you do if you were the boss? This is an aspirational exercise. Seriously, what would you do, either differently from or in addition to what your boss does? How would you behave? Once you can see yourself in your boss’s position, think concretely and practically about every small thing you could do to move in that direction.
You Can Find Your Own Motivation
You can’t always get everything you want from a single person. Sometimes you just have to find your own motivation and inspiration so that you can do an excellent job, learn new things, and perform in a way that makes you a credit to yourself. But here’s an important caveat: If you believe your boss is taking the work in the wrong direction and you feel that’s why you’ve lost a sense of inspiration, or if they are mean or bullying, then you may need more help from HR or your hierarchy. In the most extreme case, you might even consider leaving.
But give yourself and your boss more of a chance before you give up, won’t you? It can be surprising how inspirational even a lackluster leader can be once you understand them and care about what they’re trying to accomplish. And pay very close attention to how you want to be with your own subordinates. Make sure you’re giving them what they need to feel inspired and motivated. Maybe you can even motivate your own boss!
Onward and upward —