Comparing leaders to an impossible standard.

“Why am I so frustrated by my boss or client?” you may be asking. It might be all your fault. Many moons ago, I asked myself why I was constantly frustrated with clients. Was the bar for leadership really low, or were my expectations too high? Both were true. While it’s true the general bar for leadership is low, the real problem was my impossible standards. I changed one thing about my perspective and was instantly happier.

Since I’ve interviewed some of today’s greatest leaders, their advice has impacted me significantly, forming an ideal leadership model based on an amalgamation of all their experiences. Imagine how unfair that is. Not one person in the world can live up to that.

If a client talked to me harshly, I’d hold them to Paul Allen‘s standard of empathy. If a client disagreed with me, I’d hold them to Dan Ariely‘s standard of proper criticism. No guts? I’d hold them to the Howard Schultz standard. Screwing up a negotiation? I’d hold them to the Alexandra Carter standard. Failure to make bold moves? I’d hold them to the Francesca Gino standard. If a client showed up late, I’d hold them to the Laura Vanderkam standard, and so forth.

I had created an environment of constant disappointment with my clients. I didn’t chastise them, but it ate at me. It wouldn’t surprise me if it impacted my relationship with them in subtle ways. Eventually, I had a realization: everyone is a leader-in-training. Ultimately, my expectations were to blame for my frustration.

Why Am I Frustrated With My Boss?

The reason you’re frustrated with your boss is because they aren’t meeting your personal standard. It really is that simple. If they exceed the standard, you’re happy. If they miss the mark, you’re not.

Consider your boss or client falls on a spectrum: your “a-hole” boss is someone else’s teddy bear. If you find yourself constantly frustrated with all your bosses and superiors, this is a sign you may benefit from a perspective adjustment. To be clear, this is not to diminish the reality of bad bosses. In some cases, it may be necessary to leave a job, report them to HR, or report them to the correct authorities. I strongly recommend hiring a business coach or therapist to help you navigate these waters.

Outside of a truly bad boss, the best way I’ve found is to adjust my attitude in two key ways. First, I give myself a 10% chance I’m wrong on everything. Second, I pledge not to ride anyone else’s train. Third, just embrace the fact everyone is learning.

10% Chance You’re Wrong

As I was putting the final touches on this piece, I distinctly remember my editor Matt McFarland asking me to get a source for a particular claim I was making. I told him it was unnecessary because I knew from experience. He pushed, and therefore I went to get an expert source. Turns out, I was dead wrong. The scariest part of this story is that before I got that quote, I was 100% convinced I was correct.

Don’t Ride Anyone Else’s Train

My wife teaches in an inner-city school that struggles with severe poverty. From her experience, she reminds me often you “don’t ride the train.” You can’t ride other people’s personal train and path in life. There are a lot of conflict, drama, and variables you can’t possibly understand. Therefore, you are only responsible for your own ride. Some person’s train is moving what you consider to be dangerously fast, some slow, some up and down, and some are riding the crazy train.

Set clear deliverables for your work, and communicate to your boss or client based on those standards—hold yourself accountable only to those standards discussed. If your boss or client has a tantrum, it’s ok to watch their emotional tirade go by, and possibly over a cliff, but never ride that train.

Everyone sucks

Just assume every single leader, to a degree, is still learning to be a better leader. There are so many aspects to great leadership. One area a rockstar CEO excels in might be an area another rockstar CEO is vulnerable. That’s ok! Give people grace. Lots of grace.


Are you comparing your boss, client or even coworkers to an impossible standard? Are they holding you to an impossible standard? Absolutely. When we admit to ourselves we aren’t perfect-and admit our team isn’t either-our work gets easier and more fulfilling. I’d also recommend signing up for my list below, I constantly send out new superstar interviews. The perspective is extremely helpful.

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