If your boss doesn’t ‘get’ you, it’s time to reframe your situation

An issue I often encounter for high performing executives is the frustration they feel when working for a more senior colleague who does not ‘get’ or understand what it is they are trying to do, and so inadvertently puts the brakes on them fulfilling their potential or having their ideas adopted. It’s not necessarily that the less senior executive is intellectually more capable – although they might be! – but is often a sign that they are further along their development journey than their senior colleague.

Individualist or an opportunist?

An effective way of explaining this development gap is to turn to the ‘action logic’ model developed by David Rooke and William R. Torbert in their Seven Transformations of Leadership. Rooke and Torbert describe an idea that says, “great leaders are differentiated not by their personality or philosophy but by their ‘action logic’ – how they interpret their own and others’ behaviour and how they maintain power or protect against threats”, effectively how they see the world. The model identifies seven types of action logic development stages from the opportunist to the diplomat, expert, achiever, individualist, strategist – and finally at the top of the pyramid – the alchemist.

Communication blocker

While each action logic has strengths, all of them have weaknesses that can “hinder organisational performance”. A diplomat, for example, “can’t provide painful feedback or make the hard decisions needed to improve performance”, while an expert “lacks emotional intelligence; lacks respect for those with less expertise”.

Let’s make it personal and turn back to our original idea about the frustrations you may experience as a high-flying executive meeting a brick wall when it comes to explaining and executing your ideas. The problem is often at its most acute when a senior colleague is stuck on one of these action logics at the lower end of the ladder, while you have overtaken them on your developmental journey and now hold a ‘higher’ action logic. The result is you find that you struggle to communicate well with a person in a role more senior than yours, but they cannot see the world and their surroundings outside of the limits of their own action logic.

Sometimes the frustration builds to such an extent that it can cause people to want to leave their organisation because they feel restricted and frustrated by the action logic of the person that they are working for.

Identify and then reframe

What’s the solution? The simplest thing is to try and identify how the person you’re working for sees the world – the clues tend to come from the actions that the person takes or in how they speak – and then reframe communication with that person in a way that synchronises with the boss’s action logic stage but enables you to successfully get your ideas across and, consequently, allow your potential to breathe and flourish.

Of course, while this is about the high-potential executive succeeding, there is also recognition here that many senior executives do not progress along their development journey or choose not to go beyond where they are in terms of their current action logic, seeing it as their ‘safe place’. But the best leaders are those who push themselves, work hard on their development and effect a real transformation in themselves to develop through the action logic stages.

Perform better

Executives understanding where they and their colleagues are on their development journey – what their own action logic state is – will help those at all stages of their career perform better, relate to each other better, and deliver more for their organisations. It is wonderful, not a threat, as a senior leader to have smart people who see the world differently from you. See difference as strength. Listen to the thoughts and views of others. There is gold to be mined there.