How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

Have you ever seen this dynamic? A manager has known “a kid” on their team forever. LOVES her. WANTS the best for her. AND is ironically holding her back. If you ask “the kid,” (who also loves and respects said manager), it’s because he just “can’t stop treating me like a kid. I know I’ve grown. How do I convince him?”

We call this the “Tommy syndrome.” Tom is ready for what’s next, but his well-meaning manager can’t stop thinking about him as Tommy.

Dear Karin and David,

I’ve grown so much as a leader. I’ve gone back to school. Worked hard as a volunteer leader in my professional associations. My team’s results are solid. But my boss doesn’t give me a chance. I’m her go-to guy to get stuff done, but when it comes to presenting to senior leaders, or for stretch assignments, she seems to give those opportunities to the folks she’s hired in the last few years. I know I have the deeper personal relationship, and I value all I’ve learned from her. But honestly, I wonder if I should start looking outside for a fresh start.


A Grown-Up #AskingForAFriend

How Do I Stop My Boss From Treating Me Like a Kid?

  1. Don’t act like a kid.
    This may seem like the most obvious answer, but we often find that this familiarity goes both ways. Don’t over-disclose your frustrations, your insecurities, or ask for extra guidance or concessions. Act the part of the role you want.
  2. Approach one-on-ones as organized as if you’re in a new job.
    Our free MIT huddle planner can help you organize your thoughts and prepare for your discussions. Treat every one-on-one as if it were an interview for the next role. Bring that level of professionalism and preparation.
  3. Ditch the Diaper Genie® and clearly state your goals.
    Be straightforward with your manager and tell her that you would like to be considered for the role that interests you. Ask her what skills and competencies you need to demonstrate to be qualified for consideration. Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. David’s first middle-level management promotion came when he actively said, “I want to do that.” The organization had been looking externally until he expressed interest.
  4. Get real about expectations.
    What does success really look like for your current role and at the next level? Be sure you’re crystal clear about your manager’s expectations. Here’s another approach that can help. Often, your manager isn’t sharing where you’re not meeting expectations because they see you as a known quantity and don’t want to jeopardize the relationship. Be clear that you want to exceed the requirements of your current role and get the feedback you need to know where you’re not meeting the mark.
  5. Play bigger.
    To be seen as a thought-partner, you’ve got to act like one. Start thinking and speaking strategically. What are the business concerns that keep your boss’s boss up at night? What goals must they achieve to be successful? In interactions with your boss and her colleagues, start speaking in terms of these initiatives and concerns.
  6. When you’re overlooked, have an honest conversation.
    Once you’ve done all of the above for several months, if you’re not considered for the next opportunity, it’s time for another conversation. You might say something like, “It seems like you don’t consider me as qualified for these roles. Do I have that right?” Pause and let them respond. See what additional information you uncover. If it’s not obvious, ask again what skills, behaviors, and achievements you need to demonstrate to be considered.
  7. Change your context.
    Some people will always have a difficult time seeing you differently than the person you were when they first met you. If you try all of these tactics and you’re still not being seen the way you’d like, check with a mentor or some other colleagues to verify that it’s not something you’re failing to do. If you’re doing everything you can and nothing changes, you may have to change your context where you new professionalism and strategic thinking are seen without the baggage of history.

Your turn. What advice would you give A Grown Up so their boss stops treating them like a kid?

Have a leadership or management question? Send it here and we’ll do our best to share our perspective.  You might also enjoy our Fast Company article on 10 Excuses that Silently Damage Manager’s Careers

Karin Hurt David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They are keynote leadership speakers, trainers, and the award-winning authors of Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let’s Grow Leaders, their leadership training and consulting firm.

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