The list of boss behaviors that employees find uninspiring or that lack any sense of heart is a long one. Like, longer than the line at the DMV.

But the myriad of possible misbehaviors all have two things in common; the employees will bolt and they will persist unless your boss understands the impact they are having. You can address this by giving your boss feedback.


No one relishes the thought of giving a boss feedback. It can be difficult enough to give feedback to any employee (although there are effective methods to do so), but giving a boss feedback is in its own category. The good news is that once you get some practice with the simple four-step method that follows, it becomes much easier.

1. Ensure receptivity.

First, make sure your boss is open to receiving feedback. It's just a reality that some won't be, so you want to be sure. If you aren't certain, ask. Frame it as you have some observations that could be helpful.

On more than one occasion, I've asked a boss that I was certain would be reluctant to hear feedback--and it turned out they couldn't have been more receptive. The bosses that need the most feedback aren't always blind to that fact.

2. Emit a desire to help, not harp.

Assuming you get a green light, proceed with bravery, reminding yourself the importance of making sure your boss fully understands the impact his/her behaviors are having on you (and others). Watering down what you have to say for fear of offending helps no one. Show transparency--and also empathy.

The truth is, most bosses have no idea of the depth or extent of the negative impact their behavior might be having on you or the organization. Many would be horrified, but appreciative, of finding out the realities of their behavior. 

So, I'm encouraging you to conduct an awareness campaign, and gently help them understand these realities. Come across as you genuinely want to help them (which, hopefully, you do). Being the boss can be lonely, and projecting yourself as an ally in their improvement is powerful and won't be forgotten.

3. Mind the "big four" of boss feedback.

It's especially important (since this is your boss we're talking about here) to do four things as you're giving the feedback: Be respectful, direct, private, and specific.

Missing any four of these backfires. I've experienced failing to provide the feedback privately (she just got embarrassed and angry) and specifically (he just ended up asking for clarification over and over and getting more frustrated).

Give examples that focus on the impact of their behavior, never making it about them as a person. Write the feedback down ahead of time so you aren't going off the cuff--and so you know just where to pour on the waterworks.

Just kidding. Really. Don't do that.

4. Make it about them improving, not proving you know better.

Finally, and seriously, as Harvard Business Review's Amy Gallo writes, "Focus on your perspective/observations to help them improve--not what you would do if you were boss." 

Very early in my career I made the mistake of telling one boss "If I were in charge for a day...", thinking he would absorb my wisdom and I'd demonstrate my vision.

Um, yeah.  That didn't go over well--my boss viewed it as outright arrogance.

We're not hardwired to give feedback well and without anxiety, especially when it comes to our boss. So put this method into practice and put yourself at ease--you just built a new skill. 

Which means you'll be a bigger boss soon. Which means you'll have to learn to be receptive to, well, you know.