Retail Leadership: Challenging Boss Relationships

Retail Leadership: Challenging Boss Relationships

I have had quite a few emails over the past few days regarding my post “8 Reasons Retail Employees Dislike Their Boss“, so many readers had LOTS to add to the list I outlined and I am looking forward to writing about those in a new post based on the feedback I received. However,  I received a handful of messages around the topic of how to handle it when your boss clearly dislikes you so I thought I would tackle that topic since it is unique and something that I haven’t spent too much time writing about.

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Retail Leaders Role In the Employee Relationship

I am a firm believer that as Retail Leaders we should always lead with kindness and if we invite people onto our teams we need to set the tone of the business that we value diversity of opinion, personality, and style; that we seek to create an inclusive culture through our signature relationship practices; and that we eliminate any probability of a toxic culture. We have a commitment to our employees to guide, support, mentor, and help build career collateral in every single team member. Despite our personal feelings for them – we need to be fair and balanced. After all, we asked them to join our team, we saw value in them at some point. Great leaders take a moment to step back and evaluate where the relationship fell flat and they understand it’s their responsibility to repair the broken communication and support their employee and provide performance guidance to them. They also understand that allowing a poor relationship to continue is a failure on their part and it calls into question their integrity and competency as a leader.

Retail Employee Role In the Boss Relationship

A good boss relationship is a significant predictor of your overall experience at work. As a matter of fact, this can be quantified: Direct “managers” account for at least 70% of the variance in employee engagement scores across business units, Gallup estimates in the State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders. Good relationships and performance consistency increase the likelihood that you will capture interesting and growth-based stretch assignments, you will be relied on to provide feedback and ideas, and you will receive recognition for your contribution. Boss relationships that are bad – are the opposite. Your future and career path inside that organization will be icy, difficult and challenged. It is an unfortunate circumstance but one that must be acknowledged in order to be repaired.

8 Signs You May Be On The Outs With The Boss

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  • Excludes You: From important meetings, discussions, decisions. Either they forgot to invite you (which means you’re forgettable) or it was deliberate. Usually you only find out about it because you are assigned work from the conversation you weren’t privy to which exacerbates the challenge as you don’t have context for your assignment or expectation.
  • They Refuse To Make Time For You: They are always too busy to discuss issues with you either face-to-face or by phone. They are, in essence, giving you the silent treatment.
  • Conveniently Forgets To Ask For Your Feedback: If soliciting ideas from the team, they fail to ask for your ideas, feedback, suggestions to solve critical issues or to overcome obstacles.
  • Criticizes You: If your boss calls out every tiny mistake or miss of yours and does not consistently recognize any of your successes or contributions, that is a tell-tale sign that a boss isn’t keen on you.
  • They Become Micro-Managers: If, out of the blue, your boss starts to put your work under a microscope and manage your process – and that was not their M.O. before – it may be a sign of an issue. If they also start suddenly given you specifics on how to execute a task and demand compliance that is the sign they don’t have trust in your approach or your ability to deliver results.
  • They Never Thank You: Great bosses make time to thank contribution and achievement. If you are successfully contributing and on-time with your tasks and projects and you are still not being thanked or recognized – this may be a tell-tale sign that your boss isn’t a big fan of yours.
  • Consistently Assigns You The Most Menial Tasks: If you’re put in charge of the least desirable tasks in the store or in the department, it may be an issue that denotes trust or competency question that your boss may have of your abilities.
  • They Don’t Consult You In Your Area Of Expertise: A weak boss will understand at some level that you know a lot more than he or she does, but don’t expect them to consult you in your area of expertise. They’ll find somebody else to ask for advice, because it’s too hard for a someone who doesn’t like you to admit that you possibly know more than they do.

To be clear – none of these signs are okay for leaders to exhibit – great leaders don’t deal with icky working relationship issues this way and they certainly don’t let a relationship become so broken that the workplace turns hostile or toxic. Great retail leaders will communicate and open up a two-way dialog about performance issues – at the first sign of trouble – that are impacting the team and the employee’s reputation and support improvement. But great retail leaders don’t exist in every organization, unfortunately.

What To Do About It

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  • Micromanaging: If this behavior is isolated to your relationship with your boss [and not something they are starting with everyone on their team], evaluate whether you’ve done anything to warrant the lack of confidence. Have you missed deadlines on projects, tasks, or metrics.  Or have you made a series of significant errors? If so, then realize that a good and supportive manager will get more closely involved and explain the “why” behind this initiative —because ultimately their job is to ensure that the work is done well, and you’ve given they reason to question your quality of work. If not, then it’s time to ask  if there’s anything you’re doing that makes them feel you can’t be trusted and how you can work, once again, with increased autonomy. Then deliver greatness so that you can rebuild the broken trust around your abilities. If there have been no changes in your performance or results and you are being exclusively micro-managed it is perfectly reasonable to respectfully ask your boss what the catalyst was for the change?
  • Accessbility: If you are seemingly the leaders lowest priority, open up a dialog about it. Acknowledge it. Let your boss know that you would like some time weekly to discuss your performance and the goings-on in your area of responsibility. Ask for feedback on projects or results. This will show that you are open and amenable to conversation and you value their guidance and support.
  • Exclusion: Address the issue. Approach your direct manager but don’t be accusatory; you’ll get a better reaction if you work from the “assumption” that it was an oversight and not a deliberate exclusion [after all, you don’t know for sure that it wasn’t].  If your boss is passive aggressive – as all of these moves would indicate they are – they don’t like confrontation. When you address the issue, they will – likely – make excuses for the accidental omission and make sure to include you going forward.

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  • Overly Critical: When you are assigned a task or project start by making sure you are aligned with the team’s goals and objectives. One of the biggest impediments when it comes to under-performing is that you believe delivering a week of great performance is cause for celebration and reward. Or delivering amazing results in one or two metrics out of six or seven is “good enough”. It is not – however, that doesn’t excuse a rude reaction from your boss. Approach this challenge from the point of view that perhaps you haven’t been achieving results that support the strongest business possible – what can you do to deliver greatness. However, if you are delivering excellence consistently and your boss is simply a jerk – it may be a situation where you want to explore other retail organizations that will value your experience and results.


Founder and Editor in Chief of Excellence In Retail. Published writer. Frequent Podcast Guest. Speaker. Twenty year [oy vey!] retailer. I am passionate about leadership development and workplace culture. 646 246 1380 | [No Sales Contact, please} But it you want to call just to say hello or have a question - that's awesome!

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