Life in the nonprofit sector is challenging. The pay is often low, the challenges are high, and burnout is a real and serious concern. Many people come to YNPN looking for insight about how to succeed in this challenging field. Proactive workers looking for ways to excel can have an especially difficult time accepting that they don’t have total control over their own destiny in an organization. The reality is that your boss or supervisor holds the keys to a prosperous or painful path, and they need to want you to succeed if you’re to shine.
As the person who dictates your duties, evaluates your performance, and has the final say on whether to pursue the ideas and projects you propose, your boss is a critical figure in your professional life. It benefits you to do what you can to encourage a positive relationship. But sometimes it can feel like you’re on different teams, despite both of you working for the same organization with the same mission.
Here are some signs your boss may not be the right mentor to whom you should hitch your career wagon.
1. The feedback you get from them is consistently negative, even when others are telling you what a wonderful job you’ve done.
If they’re not happy with your work, you’re probably not going to be happy at work. Now, it’s common for us to fixate on negative feedback and ignore all the good stuff. For some perspective, if you’re feeling like the praise is scarce and the criticism is frequent, try keeping a tally to see whether or not your experience jives with reality. Either you realize you need to work on taking a compliment or your experience is validated. Either way it’s valuable.
2. Other people on your team, volunteers, donors, or board members frequently tell you how great you are but your experience at work doesn’t leave you feeling valued.
When you’re left feeling taken for granted or inadequate, it can be challenging to find the will to put forth your best efforts. This can hurt when you’ve made significant sacrifices for your job, which many people in the nonprofit sector do. (This needs changing, BTW.) Remember: In the end, your reputation will be shaped by your actions, not what one person thinks of you.
3. Your needs don’t matter.
If your office is lacking appropriate equipment, or you don’t have software you need, or you have several high hoops to jump through in order to take a vacation, you’re being told your needs don’t matter. Pointing this out, in a professional way, can help clarify whether this is an oversight or if this is a refusal to support you in doing your job.
4. You don’t feel safe voicing a perspective challenging theirs.
Bosses who value and support their employees appreciate hearing what you have to say, even if you’re saying you don’t think their idea is a good one. This doesn’t mean a boss who chooses to ignore your advice isn’t supportive. This is about how you feel when you disagree with your boss about something: Do you have faith you’ll be heard or do you fear retribution for challenging their authority?
So, what does this all mean?
In short, you deserve to work in an environment where you feel safe, included, valued, and supported. If you consistently feel otherwise, it’s probably time to look at finding your way to a place where you do. This can be really difficult if you’ve invested a lot of yourself in your work at that organization, you have meaningful relationships with people you interact with through your work, or you fear that leaving may mean the end of something you’ve created or been responsible for. This can be scary, too. Sometimes it’s easier to stay in a difficult situation than risk leaving for a worse one. But we’re working to make the world a safer, better place. And staying in a place where you don’t feel the things you want for other people isn’t the way to get us there.