“My boss is an idiot”. “I might actually enjoy my job if he would just listen to me”. “It’s like he hired me so that he would have someone to tell stories to about the good old days”. “How can we possibly move forward if he is always looking backwards?” “How did he even get this job?”
Early in my career I worked for a boss that had no real interest in me as a leader, but instead was more interested in simply enjoying his new role as supreme dictator of our division. He was the last one in, and the first one out. Usually my day consisted of at least three hours of sitting in his office listening to him tell stories about things he had done in the past that really had no relevance to the job we were being paid to do. Any time I asked him to try one of my ideas he usually shot it down stating that the cost benefit analysis wouldn’t support my idea, or that he had tried something like this in the past and it had failed. I was young, head strong, devoid of mentors, and quit this job entirely because of my leader.
Over the last couple of decades I have run into countless people that are in a position where they hate their boss, and as a result hate their job. The complaints usually revolve around their bosses failure to listen to them, develop them, or seemingly care about them in general. The blame game starts to go both ways, and eventually someone has to go.
After many growing pains I finally learned that the key to an engaging relationship with my boss revolved around my ability to “manage up”. The concept is simple. Instead of waiting for your leader to finally recognize your brilliance, learn to create a stronger relationship that develops a consistent systemic series of win-win out comes. There are four things that you can do to help bridge your perspective with that of your leader to help them be the boss that you are looking for.
- Change Perspective – I could never understand how my boss could summarily dismiss my ideas and initiatives without so much as a thought, until one day I simply asked. My boss at the time had just shut down an initiative that I had been working on without taking the time to even really listen to my proposal. When I confronted him about his hasty dismissal he told me that he couldn’t directly see the financial benefit to the company. After I calmed down, I thought about what he said. I came back a week later and asked for 10 minutes of his time. I pitched him the same idea, however this time I led with the financials specifically focused on the return on investment. Before I could finish my presentation, he approved my idea, not realizing it was the same idea he shot down the previous week. In the end I was able to start to see things from his perspective which allowed me to present the information in a manner that he was ready to hear versus presenting it in a format that flowed best for me. Changing your perspective will open the door to communication with your leader.
- Learn to Listen – I have had way too many bosses that would sit me down in their office and regale me with stories of their previous roles and victories. In most cases I would sit there out of respect, then try to subtly direct them to my agenda item. Most of the time it was like screaming into the wind. I would always approach the conversations with an agenda, and would focus my attention on getting my point across versus listening to what they were saying. Eventually I learned that these stories and examples were not only a glimpse into the history of our organization, but also the keys to relating to them consistently and effectively. This helped me develop a common language that both my boss and I were able to speak.
- Who Is Smarter – “You may be the smartest person in the room, but you don’t have to tell everyone”. I received this piece of advice from a Vice President once after I completely took over a meeting without really giving anyone a chance to participate. It turns out my solution presented was the right one, but I created very little buy in so it was a rocky road to execution. Regardless of what you think about your boss’ prowess, you will be infinitely more successful if you can create buy in and even share ownership of your plan. Imagine the support you would receive if you could also find it within yourself to share credit as well. It’s one of those things that goes both ways.
- “Take” Initiative – The single largest thing that you can do for your boss is to take the initiative to not only identify areas for improvement within your business, but to then come up with actionable solutions, and develop a plan to execute. A good boss will take themselves out as the barrier to improvement, but others will require they provide you approval for anything that you do. If you take the time to know the trends of your industry, business, and business unit then you can make moves that will not only differentiate you, but will make it easy for your boss to buy in to what you want to do.
Managing up can be one of the single biggest keys to your future success and growth. Your boss has a job to do, just like you do. Granted you are part of that job, but there are a number of things that you can do to supercharge your relationship, and start to work together. Your ability to communicate, motivate, and execute will determine your success and it has to be able to go both up and down.