What does it take to manage my boss?

When I coach business executives, and identify the core reasons of their stress, inevitably the three most common issues cited as ruining their lives at work and putting their promotions at severe risk are:

"I am repeatedly blamed for not being strategic enough."  This executive’s boss continually says: You do not spend enough time looking at the overall picture … you are too operational … you need to adopt a strategic perspective … you must spend more time studying our competitors and understanding our customer more deeply. Ouch.

"My boss is a hard case. How do I deal with him/her?"  Or it is the dysfunctional executive team or peers who create unnecessary tension, or the staff that cannot be delegated to? Ouch!

"I am swamped and cannot find the time to think and plan."  This executive is already working nearly 12 hours every day, sometimes more, and cannot figure out how to set aside even more time to do some long-term thinking. Ouch, Ouch, Ouch!

Sound familiar? How painful is it? How badly would you like to change this entire picture in the blink of an eye? Are you interested in turning this thing upside down, to start to run the show without being overrun? If so, this article may save the deal for you, to launch you to become really successful.

Interestingly, these three issues are linked, and handling one the right way will resolve the other two as well.

So, let us start with how to manage your boss, which will demonstrate how to structure your direct reports so that they work for you, for your success, and not the other way around.

Here are five radical steps I ask my clients to take:

Shift your attitude. You work for the success of your boss, independent of how you like him or her. Ask yourself every single day: What are my boss’s priorities today? What can I do to simplify her life? What can I take off his shoulders? This is about focusing on your boss’s problems and not yours. You are already being paid to handle your problems, aren’t you?

When you worry about those of your boss, there is a good chance he/she will consider you as performing above and beyond the call of duty. Interestingly, it is the rare individual who does that. It would be amusing, were it not such a wasted opportunity to shine

How would you feel if the minute you stepped into the office, one of your direct reports greeted you with an enthusiastic: Good morning! What is important to you today? Can I help? Is there a meeting that I can attend for you to give you more time to address strategic issues? If you are like most managers, such an experience would seem surreal.

Stop sharing your problems with your boss. Everybody talks to their boss about their problems, hoping to encourage them to take part in fixing them. Why would you add to that? How many times have people sent you emails that try to trick you to take a decision that they should be taking? In the meantime, while you sort out 50 other email messages of a similar nature, they now wait for your response, assuming permission to do nothing about it. "I sent you an email, didn't I? Did you read it? So, the ball is in your court now..."

 Fix it yourself and show some mind muscles. People tend to delay taking key decisions and avoid office confrontations despite being perfectly qualified to tackle them. Why do you suppose that is? Instead of dealing with it themselves, as is their responsibility, they insist on involving their boss, to let it steal the boss’s time and attention. She’s the boss. She is the one who needs to deal with my colleague’s bad behavior. That's her job, not mine. Not good. In fact, it’s wrong. I want you to now choose to make this your job. You fix these transversal problems, these bad behaviors. I suggest that you talk to your boss only when she/he is the one who must do the final arbitration. Choose to confront your peers or see your chances of promotion wither.

Make urgencies wait. Winston Churchill said: “Important things are rarely urgent.” The fact is that urgencies are seldom important. Just like the busy nurse in a hospital emergency room, you need an internal filtering system that differentiates between something trumpeted as urgent and a true emergency.

Imagine a hospital where all emergencies were treated immediately, simultaneously. It may sound wonderful initially, but how many nurses and doctors would that require? How much would that cost you, the patient? Your time is just like that of the doctor—it needs a triage filter, the prioritizing and protection of the head nurse. 

When you make urgencies wait, they typically fade. If a situation is truly important and urgent, that individual will talk to you in person to explain why it is so. (This is permission for you to stop reading email, or at least to consider which email addicts you need to ignore.)

Become a high-performance Jedi. Creating high performance can be taught and learned. We will soon post the top 15 articles and books that all managers need to read and use as management methodologies or principles. For now, the articles and books below are absolute musts, as they tackle the issue of how to best manage your boss, create time, and prepare you for your next promotion.

  • Harvard Business Review - Managing Your Boss, by Gabarro and J. Kotter
  • Harvard Business Review - Why You Did Not Get That Promotion, by John Beeson
  • Harvard Business Review - Management Time: Who's got the Monkey?, by William Oncken & Donald Wass
  • McKinsey Quarterly - A personal approach to organizational time management,by Peter Bregman

How do you manage your own manager? I am curious to hear about your own tools, methods and recommendations. Please comment.