Are you working for a Patron, an Employer, or a Coach?

Who do you want to work for?
The Patron – who invests in the possibility of the #FutureYou
The Employer – who pays for your #productivity and expertise. Who mostly leaves you alone to do your thing.
The Coach – who manages your day to make sure what you’re doing is the correct thing.

Who are you working for?
The Patron – someone who recognizes the impact of your #potential and is actively investing in your transformation to become the person you could be. Your conversations aren’t driven by what you can’t do; they’re driven by what you can do.
The Employer – someone who is confident you will deliver on #results. Who relies on you to get the job done as they trust you know how (or will figure out how) to make it happen.
The Coach – someone who is responsible for making sure you have all the tools and resources to get the job done. Like a high-performers athletic coach, they provide you clear and actionable feedback about what changes you can make you better.

Or is the answer all of the above?

I spent some time with one of my Selfish squad this weekend talking about the idea of Patrons, Employers, and Coach bosses and who we need in different phases of our professional careers. Here are a couple of patterns we observed I thought I’d share with you.

1. When you’re ready for a professional transition, you want a boss who’s more of a Patron than an Employer or Coach. Why? Because when you’re transitioning from one state to another, you need someone who can encourage you to step out of your comfort zone. Transitions often mean a movement away from a place of confidence and security. When you’re in that slightly scary space, you need to have someone who can cheer you on, someone who believes in the Future You. I’m a bit of a transition-junkie, so I’ve surrounded myself with Patrons. The tricky part for me was that often my Patrons weren’t my direct boss. I also see this frequently with Sr. Managers and Directors who keep bumping up against a promotion that never happens. More often than not, they either have an Employer boss who wants them to keep doing what they’re doing and not change. Worse, a Coach boss who is so focused on the individual being perfect at everything that they can’t see that a change could be a better option.

2. When you’re in a role where you are clear about the vision, you’re confident in how to get there, and you’re all fired up, you want a boss who’s more of an Employer than a Patron or Coach. Why? Because when you know what you’re doing and where to go, what you really want is a boss who will let you get on with it. I see this ALL the time with more senior executives. Quite frankly, it’s WHY they get the job. Their boss is usually the CEO or someone else in the C-Suite, and they got the job BECAUSE of their expertise and vision, and they want them to show up as that brilliant person they are. The boss, in this situation, is often not an expert and needs to trust the team member to know how and when to make the best decisions. There’s nothing more annoying than getting the “I could see you….” commentary from a Patron boss or, worse, a Coach boss’s micro-managing.

3. When you’re in a role where you need to sharpen your toolkit, learn a new skill, or become the best at something, this is when you want a boss who’s more of a Coach. Why? Because you are, in essence, an apprentice of their art. You want constructive and specific feedback in real-time so you can get better at what you do. When you’re in the learning or curiosity phase, a Patron boss can often be overwhelming and confuse you. Worse, the Employer boss tends to ignore you, leading to confusion resulting in a lack of confidence. That voice in your head does a number on you when you’re not getting feedback.

We all need different people for different situations. I see people run into difficulties when they are out of alignment on expectations about who their boss is and who they need. I lost a job because of this. Not because I was a bad person or failing, but my boss wanted to be an Employer, and I, at the time, needed a Patron. I spent a long time agonizing over this and thinking I’d failed or getting angry and blaming my boss for not being who I wanted him to be. What’s funny is that when I started the position, I wanted an Employer and not a Patron and went to work for him because I recognized it would be a win-win for us both. I had a vision and a dream; he was excited by that vision and dream and let me get on with it. It worked great for us both until it didn’t. When I look back now, we both got needlessly frustrated with each other. Had either of us had this construct to facilitate the conversation, we’d have realized what was going on.

This shift in what you need in a boss was the “ah-ha” moment my Selfish Squad member and I had yesterday as we chatted. Who you need isn’t constant. Here’s another idea, nor is your boss.

So here are a couple of ideas you can explore if this resonated with you.

1. Figure out which kind of boss you need in this time of your life.
2. Figure out which kind of boss you HAVE in this time of your life.
3. Are they the same or different?
4. Get aligned with your current boss. Share the descriptions. Ask which type of boss they think they are for you.
5. Is what you think they are (#2) and what they think they are the same? And is what you need who they are? (#1). Whatever your answers (even if your answers are yes/yes), you should have a chat with your boss about this. And if your answers are no/no – don’t assume a conversation can’t change things.

Remember, the same way you can’t read your boss’s mind about what they want and need from you, they can’t read your mind about what you want and need from them.

And here’s my final question. What kind of boss do you think you are? Before you answer, take a beat. You are a combination of truth (what you believe about yourself) and appearance (what others believe about you) – so shouldn’t you ask more than just the voice in your head which you think you are? Shouldn’t you ask your team?

I’d love to hear from a leader who’s brave and curious enough to have this conversation with their direct reports. Ping me back if you do.


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