Swallowing Your Pride and Managing Up
"I joined the corporate office of a fast food chain a year ago. My boss took me under her wing early on but about 6 months after I started, she pulled me in her office to chew me out. She told me all the things I was doing wrong and how I didn't understand the culture. I was stunned and hurt because it was such a change from her earlier behavior toward me. I wanted to defend myself but I listened and told her I would try harder. After thinking about it, I realized that whether I agreed with her or not, she was my boss and it was clear what she needed me to change to achieve success. So, I did it. I'm not super happy (nor do I hate my job) but I'm still gaining expertise and have found a way to work with my boss as she is."
Congratulations on facing surprise feedback and moving forward with a good attitude. Learning to manage upwards is a critical skill to hone throughout your career. One important aspect is to develop a positive relationship with your boss. It can make your work life easier and often improve job satisfaction and lead to promotions. Be careful of insecure leaders that continuously change the goal post. You will have to actively work at maintaining a relationship with these types of leaders.
The primary way to have a good relationship with your boss is to first assess thier and your strengths, weaknesses, behavioral and work styles, goals and work issues. This will show you where you overlap and what you will have to work on to meet their standards. Check in with her regularly to see what her "temperature" is. But play it cool and don't over ask how you are doing and don't overtly suck up. What is she being scrutinized for? And who is telling her what to do? If you can anticipate her issues and give her help before she needs it, you become valuable to her. Try to figure out what type of communication she prefers (email, in person, high-level, detail, etc.) and what time of day works best to approach her. Having an understanding of the broader corporate office culture will also be useful. What gets rewarded in the group? Who is shunned and who is celebrated? Keep your eyes and ears open, assessing the landscape for her upper level issues and your growth opportunities.
Make sure you take care of your feelings outside of work so you can come to the office with your full armor and your happy face on. Talk to friends or a coach so that you can manage the frustration you have and be more productive when you need to be. Learning to manage the feelings that come with every day work and using them to your advantage is the subject of the book Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman. Another part of gaining power over the situation and not feeling stuck is knowing what you want and where you are going. If you only have to last another 6 months to have the job for a year and then start looking, it makes it more bearable than thinking it will be your whole career. Also what are your own values and abilities? If what she is asking is outside of your scope, then think about making a change sooner - to another department or another company.
General consensus is to maintain positivity and a good attitude, bring your boss solutions, not problems, do your job well, never blind-side your boss, respect their time. This will gain you more creditability and influence with your boss. Maintaining a positive relationship with your boss is critical to your happiness and employment. Creating value for your boss and your company is one positive path to your development and success no matter whether you like your boss or not.