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My boss is effectively blocking my growth in the company. He type casts me as a junior manager. Now that my project is gradually growing he wants me to move to a newer, smaller project whereas I see this as a growth opportunity.

This is not an isolated issue. My boss in consistently making me feel small, finding fault in trivial things and depriving me of opportunities to improve. I have taken his criticism very seriously and am working hard to identify and meet his expectations and to deliver results. He even admits that I've made a lot of progress in this. But still he will not change his mind about my having limited skills.

My question is - now that I'm scheduled for a routine one on one with his boss, do I bring any of this up? How can I motivate my boss' boss to help me without infuriating my boss?

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Going over your boss' head is a big risk. By far the best way is to try and work it out with your boss. –  Paul Hiemstra Dec 22 '13 at 21:40
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There's a related question here that has an answer that could be useful in approaching your additional 1:1. Doesn't directly answer your question, and that other question isn't a duplicate of this one, but it is informative nonetheless. –  jcmeloni Dec 22 '13 at 22:46
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Left unsaid is who initiated the meeting - you or your boss's boss? I hear 'routine one on one' - is this fore ordained regardless? –  Meredith Poor Dec 23 '13 at 6:54
    
Your boss's boss likely has some insight/recommendations about how your boss that could help you work more effectively with them. That's something that's unlikely to be infuriating. –  Telastyn Dec 23 '13 at 14:29
    
Thank you all for your comments - I find all of this very helpful and educational. Esp. the one that was removed - I am much obliged! By "routine" I mean my boss' boss meets with me and others about once a Q so he is the initiator. –  user12984 Dec 23 '13 at 21:26
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6 Answers

Have you considered things from the point of view of your current boss? You may have improved in some areas they've asked you to address but not all, or not improved to the required degree. If you are asking them to recommend you for bigger roles then you're asking them to bet some of their reputation within the company on how well you've progressed. Maybe they're overly-cautious but they might still be correct.

As this is a typical meeting for your organisation and not one you've asked for because of your issue I would suggest that you ask your immediate boss for some guidelines on what might typically come up at these meetings and stick to those unless the person you're speaking to leads the conversation elsewhere. Understand how the organisation uses these types of meetings, and use the chance to talk about the positive areas of your career rather that complain about the negatives.

I certainly wouldn't go over the head of your immediate boss unless you had reason to believe they were actively discriminating against you, and even then I would advocate being careful without good evidence.

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+1 for: "stick to those (guidelines)" and "wouldn't go over the head of your immediate boss". Thank you. –  user12984 Dec 23 '13 at 21:27
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The three cases that are buried inside this question appear to be the following:

  1. He sets expectations. You've claimed to meet them ... but have you done so in a S.M.A.R.T manner? This requires both near-term and long-term goal settings that you both mutually sign off on. If this is the case and you've met your objectives, there is no objective reason for him to curtail your growth opportunities. This is clearly a red flag and it is logical for you to present this evidence to your boss's boss as you are talking Facts (paper trail attached) and not just your Opinions vs your Boss's (which is very likely to make you look bad).

  2. He sets expectations, you met them in the manner originally agreed upon (paper trail) but he readjusts them (deliberately or absentmindedly) or the terms are too loose for both of you to agree on what "done" implied in the end. In this case, you're out of luck, you've got no leverage in this round ... so lawyer up (not literally, but remove any room for doubt in the language of your terms!) and go back to him and work on a new clearer set of measurable expectations/goals before your NEXT review. Don't come off as aggressive, come off as professional when you do this. If he's been loosey-goosey as a manager with you so far, this will give him a chance to realize that you are quite serious about career growth and know how to play the game.

  3. You're in a night-and-day personality/behavior conflict with this person and no amount of professionalism will foster mutual respect. This just happens in life from time to time in work and personal relationships and you're pretty much left with looking elsewhere immediately or at the very least, being frank with your manager that this is not working out. Just say the magic words "I'm not feeling happy in this role" and if you are a valuable contributor, it is impossible for your boss to ignore that. Just having this talk ONCE will communicate clearly that the PROBLEM is not just a disconnect in expectations but a disconnect in your satisfaction as an employee. If you really must go to your boss's boss, you will appear extremely unprofessional if you've NOT had this frank one-on-one before you do.

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Thank you for this analysis! I think it's definitely option 2 (leaning towards 3 ;) ) But let me raise this problem - Defining ambiguous expectations serves this boss (and others) well. He doesn't have an interest to limit himself to SMART goals for me. How can I make the goals clearer when he's afraid to commit to them? –  user12984 Dec 23 '13 at 21:33
    
@user12984 - Ask him what metrics he was thinking. Put the ball in his court to come up with the numbers. His refusal to commit to smart goals is something to talk about with his manager. Though I would take it to him more proactively like if we could have SMART goals Then I think that I could do a much better job of making sure I am meeting and exceeding expectations. –  Chad Dec 24 '13 at 19:42
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What I'm hearing in the history of the issue here is a story that is likely to have two sides to it. If you had explicit examples of your immediate supervisor behaving in a clearly unprofessional manner, then I would endorse taking it to the boss' boss immediately.

But I'm hearing the type of issues that are very closely correlated to point of view, for example:

  • "Type Cast" - people get asked to do the roles that their bosses see as appropriate for their skill levels. Could the boss see more in you? Maybe. But some of casting people into roles is overall making use of the entire workforce as efficiently as possible. So if there's a person out there with better skills than you, you may be stuck in the role you are in. It'd be great if everyone always got growth opportunities, but that's not always possible.

  • "finding fault in trivial things" - trivial is a judgement call. You may see it as a small thing, he may see it as a big thing. But particularly in management, small behaviors and details can make a BIG difference in the health and morale of a team. And reference previous point - if you score a 9 out of 10 on the Awesome Manager Scale, and the other guy in line for the role scores a 9.5 - then it's true - the things you need to do to make the cut are trivial, but they are nonetheless important.

  • "Making progress" - it's a great sign that the manager is actually acknowledging your work. But sometimes it's not just changing behaviors over a short time. Making a push to change habits is great, but often it won't stick become a default behavior until you've been at it for a while.

So, I don't think you can reasonably expect to walk into the bigger boss' office with a list of complaints and expect gratification. It may very well be that your boss and his boss have already talked about this role, and how they'd like to staff the work in the company.

My thought would be - overall, keep it positive. It's fine to say that you are:

  • Really eager to move forward into larger management roles
  • Keen to improve any gaps in your skills
  • Actively taking the advice your manager gives you - you can even mention a few of the areas you're working on

It's even OK to ask your boss' boss if he has any additional thoughts in what he'd like to see in more senior managers. But realize that the bigger boss has delegated your development to your actual boss. If steps in the middle of that relationship, he could very well be undermining your boss' authority, and that's not something a good senior manager will do lightly.

The one thing to avoid would be any form of ranting - keep any discussion focused on ideas for generating positive results rather than simply focusing on the problems at hand. It's actually amazing how many things can be expressed this way... for example, if what the boss is asking for is really trivial - like sorting paper clips by color or something - you can say to the big boss - "I'm doing my absolute best to be a better manager - for example, I've been sorting paper clips by color, just like my manager has asked." - any boss in his right mind will realize this is a mind-numbing exercise and will likely step in to a put a halt to sorting paper clips by color - but he's able to do so at his own discretion without having to listen to you rant and without getting a poor impression of your attitude.

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+1 for pointing out it's a POV issue. +2 for keeping it positive and not ranting :) Thank you for this very accurate and helpful answer. –  user12984 Dec 23 '13 at 21:38
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How can I motivate my boss' boss to help me without infuriating my boss?

Be ultra sensitive on how your frame it. Take an approach of seeking advice rather than requesting intervention.

Explain your situation in detail to your Boss's boss. Explain how & why you feel your growth is being restricted. Share what advice your boss has been giving you and share your progress on it.

Articulate why you think it is still not enough and ultimately seek his advice on how you and your boss move froward from the current situation ?

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Thank you. This would be the right approach had my boss' boss been an unbiased professional. But seeing as he's human and is also in close ties with my boss, I'm opting to not bring it up in my 1-on-1 with him after all :) –  user12984 Dec 23 '13 at 21:35
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Generally someone in a more senior management role knows that the subordinate managers have weaknesses, quirks, and prejudices. Thus SB (senior boss) knows your boss is being a jerk - and may be hearing it from other 'victims' as well. Your big picture objective, needless to say, is to move on with the things you think you should be doing, and this needs to consume most of the time in the meeting.

One of two things is going to happen as you do this - the SB is going to think you're overreaching, therefore concurring with the MB (middle boss). In that case this is an expectation you'll have to moderate. If the SB thinks you're on track, then he might start asking why you're not getting there. This is the time to point out the specific obstructions being placed in your way.

What happens then is he goes back to the MB and asks him what issues he has with your advancement. Either the explanation provided is sufficient or not. You will not get a 'resolution' in one round, but what will happen is the SB will see a growing disconnect between two points of view, and he should (and might) explore it further. This might eventually lead to your being assigned a different boss - what would be presumably the best outcome.

Just being able to articulate a greater vision shows some leadership. Your present boss is most likely hanging himself - give him lots of rope.

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Yes, raise it with his boss privately. Surely that's what such a meeting is for, as other topics could be covered by a 1-to-1 with your boss.

If your boss is correct in his approach/actions, then his boss should be able to reassure you.

Don't be naive and assume that bosses are there for your benefit.

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