Managing Your “Boss”

I need to make a confession. Frankly, I’m biased against the term “boss.” It’s an old label from the days when the person in charge of a crew or group of workers really did “boss” them around. “Do this! Do that! Do it this way!” Although there are settings or situations when having someone clearly in command makes good sense – first responders in emergencies and military combat come to mind – the term is really outmoded today. Still, it is short, easy to say, and everyone knows what you mean when you refer to “my boss” as the person you report to within your organization.

The relationship with your own boss is one of the most important work relationships you have. When you and your boss are generally on the same page, have good rapport, and communicate reasonably well, you’re much more likely to enjoy your job. On the other hand, if your relationship with your boss is strained, you don’t have good communication, and your ideas about how to get things done are substantially different, your daily interactions can quickly become conflict-ridden and, well, a grind.

What kinds of expectations do you think your boss has of you? What are the things you generally do to keep your boss in the loop? Some expectations a manager might have of you as their direct report are pretty universal, such as “Know your responsibilities and carry them out effectively without a lot of detailed instructions.”

What other specific expectations do you think your manager has? If you aren’t sure, maybe it’s time to ask – having a conversation about what you think they expect and what they actually do expect might be a highly useful discussion. After all, if you aren’t clear about what is expected, it’s going to be difficult to be effective as a supervisor or manager.

We live in a world that’s dynamic, fluid, and fast-paced. Priorities change and external events present new challenges. Try sitting down with your boss. Say to them, “Here are the things I’m currently working on. Here’s my perspective on what you expect of me in my current role. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page about priorities and whether you think I’m focusing on the right things.”

Help your boss manage you. It might just be the most important thing you do this year.

What do you think?

Paul

Advertisements

What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

That Derailment Thing – Again

Our friends at the Center for Creative Leadership have studied the reasons behind managers derailing and crashing. It seems to come down to three things: 

They don’t successfully adapt during transitions

They are difficult to work with

They fail to lead in a team-centered way

As I look back at supervisors and managers who derail somewhere along the line, I see lots of examples of people who failed due to one, two, or occasionally all three of these reasons. How about you? Can you think of examples that stand out in your own career?

Ken & His Talents

Ken was a middle manager in a manufacturing company. He had a talent for communication – for vividly passing on to others the company’s and unit’s vision and strategy. Like most managers at his level he also had budget responsibilities, for which he had little talent or interest.

Many companies would send Ken through a series of budget or financial training programs, trying to improve his skills. Over time he might improve his skills to the point of basic competence, but the financial end of the unit will never be a strong suit. Instead, Ken’s company recognized his strengths. He went through a basic training program in the company’s budget process and then delegated most of this responsibility to a trusted team member who understood the process and enjoyed working with financial data. This freed Ken to concentrate on doing what he liked and what he did best. He continues to work hard to improve his communication skills, keeps up to speed about industry developments, and is seen as a high-potential candidate for movement into corporate planning and executive management.

Lessons Learned

Thanks, in part, to his company’s support, Ken was able to focus on one of his talents and turn it into a significant strength. By building on his talents and managing around his weakness in budgeting, he is in line for the executive suite and the company is growing a highly valuable employee.

Harry the Patriarch

During the past 25 years Harry had built a successful trucking business. The company had grown from four employees and three trucks to 150 employees and a fleet of more than 100 vehicles. Harry was nearing 50 and wanted to slow down a bit. Most of his management team had been promoted from within, typically starting behind the wheel of a truck or in an entry-level office job.

As founder and CEO, Harry had been the focus of the business for 25 years: making the decisions, guiding and building the team, regularly driving trucks just to remember where he came from, and otherwise acting as the center of the universe. He expected his long-time, dedicated employees to now make more decisions and take more initiative. Unfortunately, his “at the center of everything” approach for so many years meant his managers had little ability and willingness to step up to their new role; they hadn’t been properly prepared. Harry had great difficulty letting go and was visibly impatient when his managers didn’t immediately rise to the challenge. The management team expected Harry to stay around and be “daddy” for a lot longer so they wouldn’t have to make tough decisions.

Lessons Learned

As an organization grows and expands, the role each person plays is likely to change too. Harry and the managers had mismatched expectations. Harry failed to understand that his expectations for sudden independent decision making were unrealistic given his history of having to be at the center of everything. The managers didn’t understand why their usual expectations suddenly weren’t being met.

What would you have done in Harry’s situation?

Lessons Learned?

The past couple of posts have dealt with real cases from our files, as they used to say on old cop TV shows. You’ll see these cases from time to time, and they will always have some sort of lesson we learned from dealing with the situation. We change the names, alter the industry, rearrange the furniture, and otherwise make sure you don’t know who we are describing. But they are real enough.

I know I’ve learned a lot over the years from my mistakes; probably more than what I’ve learned from my successes.  Certainly I’ve learned more from the negative examples I’ve observed; the boss who is a total jerk, the coworker who seems to alienate people wherever they go, the manager who cannot (or will not) deal with the unmotived and results-challenged workers on their team. But what about the positive role models? We learn from them too.

What Lessons Learned would you have to share? It would be interesting to see what others have experienced and what was learned from the issue, incident, or situation. Post a comment, a question, or share a story from your own experience. What lessons have you learned?

Bill & the Company Goals

Bill was CEO of a 1,400-employee manufacturing company making precision components for the aircraft industry. His vice presidents seemed to be unclear about the overall goals and strategy of the company as the industry and marketplace were going through some rapid changes. When this confusion was first mentioned to Bill, he got visibly agitated and said, “I don’t get it. I told them the goals six months ago!” When he was asked if the goals were in writing, his response was, “No! If you write that stuff down your competition can find it out!”

There wasn’t much danger of the competition finding out because Bill’s own vice presidents didn’t even know! As a result no one else under them did either. The company continued to falter as employees tried to meet goals no one understood.

Lessons Learned

A verbal list of goals spoken in one meeting more than six months earlier wasn’t sufficient in this case. If Bill really wanted his vice presidents to “get it,” he should have provided the goals in writing, reviewed them with the team, and then discussed with each vice president how their particular area was going to accomplish those goals.