In this first of two posts on enhancing your relationship with the boss, I interviewed the author of the new book, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, Karin Hurt, CEO of Let's Grow Leaders. Karin is an experienced executive, speaker and writer with a diverse background in sales, marketing, customer service, merger integration, human resources, training and leadership development. 

She has put her 20 years of leadership experience at Verizon to very good use. Over the past year, she’s launched a consulting business and award-winning blog. And she’s written her first book, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, an interactive working guide for navigating today’s business landscape and getting what you need from a (perfect or imperfect) boss.

I recently had the chance to explore with Karin some of the concepts from her book.

I really appreciated your comment in the book that “beginning in the space of imperfection offers much freedom and power.” What exactly do you mean by this?

When you realize your boss is just a human being doing the best she can, just like you, it inspires you to take more ownership for your career. It’s not your boss’ job to motivate you, develop you, or direct your career. That’s your job. Recognizing imperfection empowers you to stop waiting for her to change or to help you, and to find the support you need. 

It’s also important to recognize that your boss needs your support. Seeing her as human inspires deeper empathy to create more meaningful and supportive connection. Stronger relationships lead to better business results and growth for both of you.

Have you learned more from good or bad bosses? Which do you think are more powerful teachers for most people?

Bad, hands down. If we can get past the frustration and allow the learning to seep in, bad boss behavior teaches us what not to do at a deep emotional level. We are more empathetic to the impact we’re having on others.  Also, paying attention to your reaction teaches you to manage your own emotions and stress. 

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Despite the title, your book hits on nearly every relationship employees have: the boss, executives, peers. Which do employees struggle with most and why?

My experience is that peer relationships can be the toughest for many folks, particularly early in their career. There’s often a sense of competition where there should be collaboration. Traditional stack-ranked systems can aggravate this behavior.   

Throughout the book, you outline scenarios and followed them up with solutions; but you took a different tack with your discussion of the disengaged boss. Rather than offering tips to improve the situation, you explore the benefits of it. Why?

Before you can take action, you’ve got to get your head in the right place. It’s tempting to think, “Well, if my boss doesn’t care than neither do I,” or “Poor me…. I wish I had a great boss like Joe.” Instead seize the benefits of this great opportunity: freedom to experiment, strategic thinking, teambuilding, a broadened network. 

What are the special challenges of engaging with a boss – perfect or imperfect – in today’s increasingly virtual environment?  And what advise do you have to employees of bosses who are both imperfect and remote?

I have been working in long distance leadership situations for almost two decades. I have led many highly dispersed teams.  For most of my career I have not worked in the same state as my boss. And in my last role I led a team dispersed over 20 states across three time zones.

My advice: Understand that every interaction counts. Stay well organized and prepare good updates, followed-up by email summaries. Explore ways to connect “eye to eye” through technology. Keep track of your accomplishments—it’s not bragging it’s helpful, particularly in a remote environment. Take time to get to know one another as people. It’s a bit harder in a virtual environment, but worth the effort.