the third part of the "The Secret Art of Managing Your Boss´ series. Part 1 is here and part 2 is here. This part is about understanding the boss. I’ve included the relevant slide for this section. Everything that follows comes off the slide. Click it to get the big version.
Listener or Reader
There’s a management theory (hat tip to Drucker) that says that all managers are either listeners or readers. It’s not limited to just bosses, of course. Everyone can be classified as either a listener or a reader. The trick is to figure out which kind of boss you have and accomodate their preference. Listeners need to hear the info first (meetings, phone, hallway, whatever), then they’ll be able to consume a written digest. Readers want the story on paper first so they can have some time to understand the issues and be prepared for a meeting. Understand the boss’s preferred style and use that knowledge to make your life easier.
Under-manage and Over-manage
your boss over-manage or under-manage? Over-managers tend toward
micromanagement–they want to be involved with task-level stuff.
Under-managers tend toward being uncommunicative as to their
expectations. They’ll generally leave you alone to wonder what’s
next. You can deal with both of these scenarios by understanding the 5
responsibilities of a manager over there on the right side of the
slide, and by understanding the manager’s problems. With
over-managers, you’ll need to demonstrate the dependability I mentioned
in part 2,
and you’ll need to demonstrate a clear grasp of the details of your
task. Then you need to gently point the boss’s attention back to process
details and away from task details. With under-managers, you’ll need
to insist on completing the feedback loop. That is, you’ll want to
ensure that your communications with the boss consist of your
message/question, their response, and your confirmation of the
response. Or the other way around–you respond to their question and
insist on a confirmation. Always remember that communication feedback
is a three step process.
What’s the problem?
your boss’s problems and/or pressure points can make a big difference
in both how you approach the boss and how they perceive you. When you
can empathize with the boss’s plight, you’re in a better position to
make their worklife easier, since you’ll be in a better position to
know what kind of support they need and how best to deliver it. Is
your boss frantically cobbling together spreadsheets for an upcoming
meeting and letting the office Kleenex supply fall below acceptable
levels? Step up, offer your services, and tell the boss you have a
plan for Kleenex acquisition. When you do this, however, take
particular care to not simply give the boss a ‘heads up’ that the
office is out of Kleenex, but to provide the solution as well.
Ideally, it’s a three-part email message, or verbal pitch:
- First, define the problem: Out of Kleenex.
- Second, provide a brief analysis of the situation: the office
supply coordinator is temporarily overextended and should receive
relief, which this memo proposes.
- Third, pitch the solution: detail how you can provide needed relief
for the boss–note that you know the appropriate account numbers for
ordering Kleenex, that you know the vendor contact info and that you
know how and where to receive the shipment.
If you can discern your boss’s problems, and plug the gaps for them
in this manner, you’ll have given them a gift beyond understanding.
They may not even realize what you’ve done, but you’ll realize the
fruits of your labor through improved relations with the boss.
The right-side box on the slide lists the five
responsibilities of any given manager. There’s a good reason for
remembering these, and that’s to help keep your boss on track. Lots of
bosses are easily sidetracked into micromanaging or under-managing and
by keeping these responsibilities in mind, you’ll be better tuned into
their problems and pressures, as well as better tuned in to what you
are expecting to recieve from the boss. So here are the five, with
Meet the needs of the organization and employees
ever there was a recipe for stress and discontent, this is it. The
needs of the organization aren’t usually neatly lined up with your
needs. In fact, they’re frequently mutually exlusive. And your boss
sits there, in between you and the organization, trying to serve both
(if you’re lucky–if you’re like most folks, your boss is only focused
on serving the organization, since if it was the other way around,
they’d be fired). Understanding this single responsibility of managers
may be enough to get you thinking about aligning yourself with an
organization that truly acts on the values it espouses, and holds it’s
managers accountable to those values. Such organizations exist, though
they’re far from the norm. If you are fortunate enough to already be
working at such an organization, then this managerial responsibility is
probably nearly transparent to you. And your boss probably is tuned
into this responsibility, and has the organizational support to back
them up when they (surprise!) put your needs ahead of the organization.
Ensure problems are solved
This is a no-brainer,
right? Maybe. Here’s the problem with this responsibility: a lot of
managers accept that problem-solving is part of their responsibility,
but they ignore the altitude at which they ought to be
operating. Many managers, especially those that have "risen up the
ranks," tend to problem solve at the task level, instead of at the
process level. The reason is because the task-level is so familiar.
It’s an easy challenge, since oftentimes these managers have attained
their current positions because of their ability to problem-solve at
the task level. So it’s a comfortable place for them to hang out. But
it’s an inappropriate place. Managers ought to be pulling back and
problem solving at a process level. When you know this, you
can recognize when the boss has wandered away from their neighborhood
and you can gently guide them home. It’s perfectly fine for the boss
to throw a few tips your way–that’s the benefit of experience. But
ultimately, your tasks belong to you.
Ensure expectations are clear
Why is this so
hard for managers? As you’ll see in part 4, the fault for unclear
expectations may not lie entirely with the boss (hint, hint). You can do your part
to help extract the information you need. Earlier I mentioned the three-step communication feedback model. This is pretty much where it becomes critical, and where you can help the boss stay off your back. If your boss is prone to under-manage, then force the three-step communication feedback. It works in one of two ways: you initiate, or the boss initiates. If you initiate, then you’ll expect a confirmation from the boss regarding what you said (your message). Once that confirmation is received, you affirm receipt of the confirmation. Now you’ve sent the message and you know the boss understood it, and the boss knows you know. If the boss initiates the message, then be sure to give them the confirmation that you heard it, as well as any questions (now you’re initiating a message again) you have about their message. Be sure to get that final confirmation of understanding from the boss. Basically, in order to manage the boss with respect to expectations, you’ve got to drive the communication process.
This is a similar sort of "feedback" from the feedback implicit in the three-step communication feedback model. This kind of feedback takes place at a higher "altitude," though, than personal communcation strategies. Good managers are in regular communication with their team regarding progress being made toward any current goals or deliverables. This really goes hand-in-glove with the clear expectations responsibility, discussed earlier. If the team feels like they’re floating–not really knowing whether they’re doing good work, or even the right work, then the team isn’t receiving sufficient feedback, or feedback of a high enough quality. If the manager can’t perform this responsibility, then you can drive the process by hooking back into the three-step communication feeback model.