by Jane Anderson, Columnist & Featured Contributor
WHEN I WAS ABOUT 12 years old my mom had a friend I had grand admiration for. She always had her hair perfectly coiffed, wore beautiful outfits and skinny high heels. Not only that, she was an executive secretary and she was always talking about the good things her boss did. I couldn’t wait to grow up to be a secretary and have a boss that did all those wonderful things. Fast forward 20 years and I’m sure you already know the rest of the story. All bosses are not created equal. In fact, some of them are, well, you know – complicated and irritating. My story is not unique, is it? In fact it’s so common that Karin Hurt was able to put into words, many of the same experiences I’ve had throughout my career and publish what I would call a playbook for building a good rapport with leaders and team members in your workplace. Speaking from her knowledge as a boss and as a subordinate, Karin’s presentation of experiences will grasp your attention and, like me, you won’t want to put the book down.
Why is it so hard to work for someone else? Think about it this way. Karin nails it.
“The boss-subordinate relationship is unnatural by design. We look to a person we have not chosen (whom we may or may not respect) for affirmation, evaluation, and reward. Then we have to figure out what will make that person happy. Further we take this unnatural structure and make it even more awkward through performance feedback systems.”
Pick up a copy of this book and you will recognize yourself in nearly identical situations. I won’t cover then all here in this short review, but let’s hit the highlights to get you started.
Let’s admit right off the bat that your boss might be flawed. Nobody expects perfection in a boss or in a subordinate, but there are ways to ease the tension and work through the issues anyway. Ask what you can do to support your boss, communicate frequently – but concisely, pay attention so you can talk about issues but also have ideas for solutions; document what you accomplish so you have it when you need it – like at performance review time.
Trust and autonomy are important factors in establishing a good business rapport. When your boss has confidence in you and trusts the caliber and quality of your work, you are more likely to be given assignments you enjoy and the autonomy to complete them in the way that best showcases your talent. Just a few suggestions for earning trust are keep commitments, follow through to the right outcome, be a valuable team player and ask what more you can do to help.
Have you ever worked for a disengaged manager? It’s like pouring all your effort into a black hole because nothing ever comes back. The feedback channel is silent. There is little chance for career advancement when the manager doesn’t care. You need to seek mentors and stronger peer relationships. Karin goes a step further though and describes the benefits of working for a disengaged boss. In fact, this circumstance can force you to think more strategically, try different approaches to problem solving, build your skills, and rally the team and support each other’s development.
When I was in 10th and 11th grade our school couldn’t afford to pay a full time band instructor so we had him only two days a week. That left 3 days a week that we were still in class but with no teacher present. The benefit was that by the end of those years I had learned to play the saxophone, flute, trumpet, French horn, and percussion. Before then, I was stuck with the clarinet. And I wasn’t the only one who switched instruments. We gained a new appreciation for each other and to this day the kids in band class have memories and possibly are slightly more talented than the others who missed out.
Moody bosses! None of you reading this have any experience with moody bosses. Right! Admittedly it’s sometimes easier to try to tiptoe around the moodiness and don’t rock the boat, but what if there could be a solution and you found a relationship waiting to be forged? Karin advises to find a way to talk about the moods, but find a good time and a private place to have the conversation. Identify triggers, try to find the underlying cause, and look for patterns. And here’s a tip that might be a bit touchy. Be sure you understand your part in the moodiness.
It seems like there’s a lot of attention given to the performance review, but what about times when you want feedback and none is forthcoming? Karin suggests finding an appropriate time to have a conversation with your boss and in this chapter you’ll even find a list of leading questions designed to get your boss into a consequential dialogue. She also offers questions your boss is likely to ask you.
Communicating with executives can scare your socks off. One of the most important thing you can do is tell the truth; but beyond the obvious, what comes next? How can you prepare? What presentation will be memorable and hold the greatest value? Among some quick tips, listed are: Begin with a problem statement, then share actions; and if you don’t know the answer don’t make one up.
Then there’s the boss who has legitimately earned the title of Jerk. If this happens to you, just know that if you think it, others think it too. Stay away from gossip and don’t sit around while everyone feeds each other’s anger. Don’t be party to commiseration. Stay focused on the work and find ways to avoid becoming like the boss. To stay grounded, Karin suggests exercise, meditation, and prayer to keep stress from affecting you, your family, and your team.
Chances are when you feel like your relentless efforts to get along with your imperfect boss are slowly depleting, you might think you’re in the wrong job. Welcome to the club! You might wake up every day thinking of all the reasons you can’t go to work; or maybe you’re grouchy, feel trapped, feel like your skills are fading, or you feel overwhelmed. Don’t quit till you read this book and get to know yourself as well as your boss and make a decision based on what could ‘be’ rather than what ‘appears true’ today. There could be a solution that works for you.
“The glorious side effect of having an imperfect boss is that it makes you think. What is it that you value most in your boss and what drives you crazy?”
What if you could become the boss you wish you had? Remember my story about my mom’s friend and the boss she talked about with such admiration. Be that boss. Be the leader that others want to follow. In the concluding pages are some worksheets that structure your thoughts as you consider your ideal boss, your strengths and challenges, and identify what is helping and what is hurting your leadership success. Finally, identify specific steps you will take to become the leader you want to be.
The major component in relationships is communication. You just said, “I know that!” didn’t you? Well it’s true and at the end of the book, Karin gives us a framework for having a REAL conversation between manager and employee, an assessment to gauge your relationship in various components so a dialogue can occur. REAL is Results Energy Authenticity Learning
Overcoming an imperfect boss will never be an overnight success, but with your ambition, quality communication, and applying Emotional Intelligence to the process you can build relationships that are mutually beneficial and universally favorable.