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Working with, or for, a brick?

People always complain to me about a bad boss or a difficult co-worker. A boss is the number one reason people take or leave jobs. It's because we are wired up as social creatures and we have a need for sharing airtime with people we like.

75% of workers who left their jobs did so because of their bosses not the position itself. Gallup

Behind every job is both a legal contract and a social contract. The social contract defines the expectations (or wants) of each person in a manager-employee relationship. What is it that you want from your boss? What does your boss want from you?

Most people want autonomy, meaningful work, realistic time-frames to complete tasks and so on. A good boss jointly helps you to establish what you both want in your social contract. Trouble is many people make wrong assumptions or settle for less by accepting bad boss behaviour. A workable social contract that meets their needs and expectations may never get established. Whose job is it to communicate ones expectations of how we can work best together?

If the work you do is meaningful then poor personal relations are often tolerated.


If your boss is 100% discompassionate, passive and not-to-be-trusted you are probably working with a brick. Here’s the thing:

You can paint a brick. You can move a brick. You can promote a brick. You can put different people around a brick. But it’s still a brick.

When people talk to me about their brick, I first ask them if they chose to work for a brick? What are they doing to enable the environment for a brick to thrive? Needless to say, these questions make people think more deeply about their role in establishing their social contract.

Without one, you quickly discover your boundaries when they get crossed or when things go too far. This is when dysfunction sets in with blaming, arguing, closing down and resentment prevails.

If you are working with a brick, and the work is not meaningful, what are you doing there?

If you are working with a brick and your work has value, what is the story you tell yourself every day?

Some people stay and try to fix the problem because their work means something. You can always establish or re-negotiate a workable social contract with someone by asserting your wants. What behaviours do you want from your boss? What are the unstated expectations or assumptions that you need to bring up with your boss? Writing a list of what you want from your boss is a good place to get clarity in your own mind. One of my wants is regular feedback to know how I am going. Another is an open relationship based on trust.

So how do I coach a brick? I don't. I wish them well.

Some people are content just being a brick. You don’t always click with a boss or know everything about someone’s circumstances, life, issues...

What you can do is … let it go.

Be at peace with your bad boss reality. You can only change the story you tell yourself.

You can’t change a brick.

About Bruce Mullan

I am a Leadership Coach nurturing leadership excellence in health, aged care and NDIS. I integrate leadership strengths, agile disciplines and a coaching mindset to help leaders successfully navigate the growing complexity of our external world.

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