During a seminar I was conducting, a young manager raised his hand and asked: “This is all well and good. But how do I apply these ideas to manage my boss? How can I lead him where I think we need to go?”
I winced because of the way his question was framed. I told him that to build trust with his boss, he first needed to find a way to see the world through his boss’s eyes. “You need to ask him what he’s dealing with,” I said. “Understand how he’s seeing things. Ask how you can help. Get him to believe you want to be part of the solution. Once you’ve built trust, then make your points and decide together on how to advance the causes you believe in. And be prepared to learn that it’s not as easy as you think.”
In “Managing Your Boss,” John Gabarro and John Kotter point out that bosses “don’t have unlimited time, encyclopedic 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.” It’s up to you to find out what those concerns are and figure out how you can best support your boss.
It’s important to accept that you are not going to change your boss’s personality any more than you can change your own personality. At best, you might be able to suggest some small changes in behavior—but only if your boss is open to such suggestions, and only if you can show that it would benefit the entire organization. Even small changes in behavior require considerable commitment. As the old joke goes, how many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb must really want to change.
Tip: Take our free Communication Styles Survey, then invite your boss to compare styles.
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