What do you do when the abrasive boss is nice?

I have observed that a particular boss constantly undermines her team’s ability to be efficient and productive, even though she is respectful and extremely appreciative of her team members. As Laura Crawshaw has observed, when the TAD dynamic is in play, people are often caught in the crossfire. What is the TAD dynamic? Simply put, when someone feels that their survival is threatened, they become anxious and take action to defend themselves against both real and perceived threats. This Threat-Anxiety-Defense dynamic manifests in different ways at work, where people fear that they will be perceived as incompetent. In the case of this boss, she spends so much time and energy worrying about possible issues that she does not complete work until the very last minute, leading her team into one emergency after another, each of her own creation. Her worry also expresses itself as micromanaging, for example by editing and re-editing work product, amounting to what feels like a rearranging of deck chairs on the Titanic for those on her team. If she could develop insight into her own behavior, she might see that her fears consume her available resources and tax the ability of her team to do quality work – if you wait until the last minute, everything is rushed and hectic, making the work product more prone to error. This is but one example of the many unproductive behaviors she exhibits in an attempt to fend off perceived threats. The question is – who can intervene – her boss, who doesn’t realize that this is going on, or her team members, who bear the brunt of this dynamic? Some have told me it is not the team’s job to tell their boss how to do hers. Meanwhile, the team keeps checking things off their “to do” list in spite of their “nice” boss. Please share your experiences and solutions to this dilemma.


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