Managing your boss and other execs isn’t just apple polishing, brown-nosing, or sucking up. You need to wow your boss to get the resources to do the best job for yourself, your boss, your boss’ boss, and your organization.
Your boss can either help or hinder your career: wowing her/him will help your career. With an effective relationship, your boss can give you all kinds of support, insight, and linking to others in the organization. Actually, managing your boss is not manipulation, but forging ties based on mutual respect and understanding. Harvey Golub, the former CEO of American Express, always told his people they needed the skills of influence management. “Wowing” your boss is nothing more than “upward influence management.” Managing your boss is so important that many of my senior clients ask me to teach their subordinates to manage them better. In short, they want their people to manage them because they can get “more done better.”
Four Tips for Wowing Your Boss
1. Manage your boss like he’s your client. Is he print-oriented or ear-oriented? Listener or reader? Detail-oriented or big picture-oriented? Strategy oriented or tactically oriented? Play to his orientation when you give him information, but protect him when his orientation will get him into trouble. Decision-making styles differ significantly. If he’s highly involved, touch base frequently with him like some strategic clients who just want to be kept posted about important decisions already made.
2. Give your boss what he wants and needs, organizationally. Effective bosses lay out their business goals and objectives on a regular basis. Make sure you understand them clearly and that you demonstrate they’re important to you in your performance. Make your boss’ goals your priority. If they conflict with your own goals, communicate with your boss and get his help setting priorities. Don’t think you can read your boss’ mind about his organizational objectives. Ask him. Check in with him so he knows that you’re taking care of his needs. But find out how often he wants you to touch base with him.
3. Remember what matters to your boss, personally. Your boss’ personal life and career are just as important to him as his business objectives. Find out his career objectives, keep him updated on related opportunities, and keep him out of trouble. Pay attention to his family and lifestyle objectives, and provide whatever resources possible for those wants and needs. You may know someone who can offer him insights for his kids’ college decisions, a unique developmental opportunity, a vacation location, or even an investment opportunity.
4. Flatter your boss. The surest way to keep your position and build your future is to make your boss feel good about himself. As Stanford’s Jeff Pfeffer puts it, worry about the relationship you have with your boss as much as you worry about your job performance. Most people, not just the insecure, like to feel good about themselves. That means be very, very careful about criticizing your boss. If possible, get someone else to do it. Most people underestimate the value of flattery and therefore underutilize it. The technical term is ingratiation and it has been thoroughly studied. An overall, meta-assessment of the research finds that flattery works and it works well.
Furthermore, a study by JD Watt (1993) found that ingratiators were thought by their supervisors as being more competent, more motivated, and more qualified for leadership positions than their nongratiating counterparts. Not too shabby results. But use flattery as a compliment to the other three tips, not solely. To the degree possible, be sincere. Most execs are clueless about many of their strengths — so take advantage of that weakness through the use of flattery.
I have little doubt that some, perhaps many, subordinates resent that on top of all their other responsibilities, they also need to make managing their relationships with their bosses a work priority. These folk fail to realize the importance of managing their bosses; how they can simplify their jobs and build their own careers through this task. They think that if they perform well on the job their boss will take care of the rest. In more than twenty-five years of consulting with leading American companies, I’ve never met an executive who failed to make managing his boss a job priority. But I’ve met plenty of employees who failed to manage their boss, either because they don’t believe in it or don’t know how. But I never saw one of those employees become a senior manager or an executive.
Dan Erwin, PhD, is a specialist in performance improvement. Over more than 25 years he has coached nearly 500 officers, executives, and managers from top American corporations by means of his very original, cutting-edge development program. Shockingly, you can't Google his name prior to 2008 — due to the demands of his clients. He blogs at danerwin.typepad.com, and tweets at twitter.com/danerwin.
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