For goodness’ sake, don’t tell my boss about this article – he thinks he’s in charge.
Are you managing your boss? Be warned: the result of not managing management could be devastating for you and your company!
Come on, we’ve all had times when we wanted to get the boss by the ear and march him or her into a meeting room and give them a good stern talking to. The boss, after all, is supposed to be the superhero wearing his or her underpants on the outside. They’re certainly not just human; they’re superhuman. I don’t believe they need to eat, or sleep, or go home to a family and pay bills, watch their kids play sport or perform on stage. No, they are mind reading machines that guide you every inch of the way from A to B and back again.
It’s very easy to believe all of that, but when it comes to people, as different we all are, the one thing you can be assured of is that the majority of bosses require support to do their job well. Your support, that is. The more senior you become, the more you might like to describe that as managing your boss – as dodgy as that may sound. A boss and a subordinate are co-dependent and the sooner you realise that, the more successful your relationship will be. In fact, the sooner you realize that the need to support your boss is no reflection on your boss’s ability, the better off you’ll be. Ah. Light bulb eh? Reminds you of the moment you realized you parents were human – horrible, horrible shock. And then you had to accept that you were not just a much loved parasite, you had something to contribute to the relationship.
But I’m the kid here – why do I have to be the parent?
Yes, I know that’s a bit extreme, but for many of us, we take on quite a submissive or dependent role in this incredibly important relationship and, as a result, much of the value in the relationship isn’t realised. For further thoughts on dependent behaviours check out my post – I hope I can depend on you, I cant depend on myself. Of course, there are those who take on more of a petulant teenager oppositional style. For further thoughts on oppositional behaviour, check out my article, If there is no avoiding it, then attack. One way or another, we have to come together like pieces of a jigsaw to form a greater picture.
Both counterdependence and overdependence lead managers to hold unrealistic views of what a boss is. Both views ignore that bosses, like everyone else, are imperfect and fallible. They don’t have unlimited time, encyclopaedic knowledge, or extrasensory perception; nor are they evil enemies. They have their own pressures and concerns that are sometimes at odds with the wishes of the subordinate—and often for good reason. HBR Managing Your Boss
Okay, okay, I’m convinced. What can I do?
1. How do I tell if it’s right to write or to tell – confused? – read on
HBR tells us we should ensure we have compatible working styles. For example, some bosses like to listen and some like to read. Me, I like to listen, but only to a brief summary please. Too much detail and I am quickly frustrated. I trust you to do what’s best and what’s right, just keep me informed.
“Listeners” prefer to be briefed in person so they can ask questions. “Readers” want to process written information first and then meet to discuss. (HBR Pg 198)
You need to know how your boss likes to receive information and be conscious of delivering it in an appropriate and effective manner.
2. Stone the crows, I’m not a bloomin’ mind reader
Don’t assume your boss can read your mind any more than you can read his/ hers. Take a walk down the street this weekend and stand outside of a house where you don’t know the occupants. Make sure you get out of there before the police arrive, but give yourself enough time to realise that although you can see what’s going on on the outside and you can form an opinion and assumptions, you really have little idea what’s going on inside. What pressures the occupants are under, what drives their behaviours etc. That house is your boss. You can’t know what’s really going on on the inside just by standing there. It’s your job to understand your boss’s expectations and to communicate yours.
3. I don’t have time for this, make it snappy
If your boss is anything like mine, he is very likely time constrained. Part of managing your boss is effectively managing the time you have with him or her. They’ll appreciate it. Prepare your information in the fashion you know they prefer to receive it. I’m not suggesting you should have robotic interactions, but there is a time and a place for a joke or a story about the weekend and it’s not when his face is scarlet with rage and he’s just thrown a book across the room. I have been working with my boss for a while now and I know our time together is limited, so I make a habit of preparing carefully with dot points regarding what I want to say, actually booking a time in his diary and keeping the conversation flowing to optimise the time.
4. Give it to me straight, I can take it
The truth hurts. But a boss needs to know you’re dependable, that you provide honest and accurate information, warts and all, if there are warts. There is nothing more unsettling for a boss than suspecting they are only getting part of the picture. It’s a very quick way to stifle a relationship, to erode trust and to find yourself being micro managed.
5. Focus on my strengths and weaknesses
What are your boss’s strengths and weaknesses? You will subconsciously know them, but get conscious of them. It’s time to see them as an opportunity for you to focus your efforts more proactively and productively.
6. What’s really important to you Boss?
It’s great to know the boss’s goals and objectives, but even more important to understand their priorities. Have the conversation: “We’ve discussed a,b,c, which of these is our highest priority and where should I focus my efforts when appropriate?”
And that’s a wrap once again
As a quick summary, if I were starting out with a new boss/new management, I would ask to spend some time with them understanding their goals and objectives. I would ensure I could summarise those goals and clearly articulate them back to my boss. I would ask them and perhaps my peers how they like to receive information and confirm that with them. I would be entirely conscious of how I managed my interactions with and supported my boss in both their and my co-dependent interest.
Love to hear your comments about your experiences.
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Ref: Harvard Business Review, HBR’s 10 Must Reads – On Managing People, 2011, Harvard Business School Publishing Corp, USA