An unappreciative supervisor

Dear Joan:
I work in a medium-sized (125 people) branch office of a large firm. My supervisor doesn't seem comfortable with his people. For example, I attended a company party a few months after starting with the firm. My supervisor had taken an extended vacation two weeks after I began so I hadn't seen him at all for two months. At the party, he made no move to come over and greet us, meet my wife, etc. I did try to approach him but found he was surrounded by a lot of the higher brass in the company and we felt awkward trying to join their group.

Yesterday was some people's final day doing a special project on a voluntary basis for our office. Our supervisor did not even acknowledge that the people were leaving and never said thank you. In fact, he left before the volunteers did and didn't even say good bye to them.

The only time we hear from this person is when we do something wrong and never receive unsolicited praise for any special project or effort we engage in. We've all been putting in a lot of overtime but get no verbal recognition of that fact. At my last review, he never mentioned my performance! When pressed, he said that he hadn't heard any negative feedback from anyone about me so I must be doing OK. Talk about a left-handed compliment! I feel I've been doing a lot better than "OK" (Incidentally, he treats everyone in our department in a similar way.)

Please tell me if we are over-sensitive. Are we, the employees under him, expecting too much? I don't want a friendship with him, just some good manners. Should I approach this topic at my next review?

I don't think you're being over-sensitive. In fact, I think you're being down right charitable!

It's no surprise that he doesn't have any performance feedback for you. How could he? He doesn't have a clue about how you're performing because he never seems to be around. Good bosses will spend time directly observing and coaching their employees. They make themselves available for questions and ask their employees for input and ideas. Their employees know where they stand at all times because they work with them and tell them how they're doing all year long-not just at annual review time.

I don't blame you for being insulted by his bad manners at the company picnic and when the volunteers left your firm. Saying "please" and "thank you" and making you and your wife feel welcome are simple, common courtesies. A good boss would have been looking for you at the picnic, in order to introduce you to other people in the company. He would have realized that at least half of his time should have been spent with his own team, rather than ignoring them so he could shmooze with his bosses. Employees are quick to spot a boss who seems more interested in his own advancement than his own people.

He is creating an environment where the motivated worker will soon realize it doesn't pay to go above and beyond the regular expectations of the job. In fact, his open disregard for his people may cause so much resentment, employees may retaliate by badmouthing him, sabotaging the work in little ways or leaving the job all together.

If you approach him about his shoddy treatment, you are likely to be branded a troublemaker. I doubt he will take it well, given his shallow understanding of interpersonal relationships. However, you may have some luck asking him for feedback and coaching throughout the year. Explain that as a new employee, you would appreciate his advice and counsel. Then be specific about what areas you'd like feedback in. Throughout the year, approach him during and after projects and ask for his input.

It will be hard to work for this boss. Be careful not to become a complainer among your peers, since this could get back to him and destroy your chances for a lateral move or a promotion. Avoid the temptation of going over his head, too. This will surely provoke his anger.

You'd be wise to gather all the experience you will need for your next move. When possible, get some visibility for your work with outsiders and other internal managers. Make sure your performance will earn you a solid reference. As you become more familiar with the job and the people, use his leadership void as an opportunity to develop an informal leadership role. If he leaves his job, you will have a chance at it and even if he doesn't, you'll be developing skills to use elsewhere. It's a shame to think that you may be on the job market again within a few years but if this is any example of how your boss develops his employees, you'd be better off elsewhere.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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