How to Manage Your Boss

According to a Gallup poll of over 1 million U.S. workers, the main reason people quit their jobs is because of a bad boss or immediate supervisor. Gallup wrote that, “People leave managers, not companies”. What makes matters worse is that in a tough economy many are forced to stay in a job because they have no other options. So, the question is, how does one transform a bad work situation and learn how to manage their boss?

The first step is to decide to take action and learn the skills necessary to manage your boss. If you are in a bad work environment, the chances are high that you are stressed and maybe even emotionally exhausted. The way that you can overcome the stress and emotions is by taking action. You must decide to focus on the activities listed below and put aside the highly charged emotions of your situation.

The next step is realizing who your boss is. Most knowledge workers have more than one boss. Let’s define the term “boss”. A “boss” is anyone who will be listened to when they have an opinion about your performance, competence and/or qualifications. In other words, they have the power to influence decisions about your future.

Start making a list of your bosses. List everyone to whom you are directly accountable; those who can direct and evaluate your work; those who depend on, and make use of, the work that you produce.

For example: I might be a Production Manager who reports directly to the Director of Manufacturing, that would be the first boss on my list. But, the Sales Manager may be seeing a high defect rate from production and can prepare a report and shoot it up through the organization, making your life miserable – put them on the list. The Engineering Manager may also create the manufacturing process and direct how the product is to be built – put them on the list. It is better to put too many people on the list than it is to leave someone who matters off.

Now you have a list of your bosses. People who can make life at work more miserable or more bearable. The next step is to schedule a time, when they are in a more positive state of mind, and ask them two questions. The first is, “What do I/we need to do to make you and/or your department successful?” You can change the wording to fit your situation, but the objective is to discover how they define success and your role in meeting that success. You are trying to see things from their point of view. You need to understand what they think, not what you think.

IMPORTANT… After you ask the question, then listen to the answer. Don’t try to make excuses, or explain, just listen, and ask more questions until you thoroughly understand what they are telling your. Don’t try to solve any problems on the spot. If there are problems, write them down and ask them to give you a few days to think about them and prepare a game plan on how to solve them, then put it in writing so that they know you are serious.

After asking the first question, the second question will come quite naturally. It is, “What do you think we do well?” While it is important to solve problems, it is also emotionally important to have a mutual understanding that there are some things that are being done well. If your boss says, “Nothing is being done well”, that deserves a deeper discussion to discover why they would say such a thing. It also means that you have to decide in advance to keep your emotions out of it, and be prepared for any remark. Don’t let them change your emotional state. If this happens, you can reiterate by saying, “I’m here to do a good job and I seriously want to know your expectations so that I can meet them.” If your boss is still in a negative state of mind, graciously end the conversation. You’ve planted a seed – let it incubate.

If you’ve written down the things that can be improved and problems that need to be solved, don’t develop the solution on the spot, or in a vacuum. Do your research first, think about the problem, then, ask your boss and others for their input. This can do amazing things in establishing better relationships and enabling you and your team to meet expectations. Ask for your boss’s input!

Finally, now that you know what your bosses expect and you’ve done a good job at working on the problems at hand, the next step is to keep them informed. Establish a line of communication where you let them know what is happening, ask them questions and never leave them surprised by an event.

If you develop the skills of communication and asking questions, and taking the proper action, you will have learned how to manage your boss – and maybe make life a little better in the process.

Many of these ideas are not new and have been proposed by Dr. Peter Drucker and others. If you try any of these suggestions, please leave a comment and let me know the outcome. Thanks!

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Hiring Best Practices

The biggest problem managers have in hiring people is that they believe they are a good judge of people. Peter Drucker said, “To be a judge of people is not a power given to mere mortals”.

The best we can do is to have a thorough diagnostic process. Candidates must be rigorously researched and tested. People should always be hired based on what they can do.

George C. Marshall had 5 steps for hiring people:

1. Marshall carefully thought through the “assignment”. What objective was this person being asked to achieve? Job descriptions last a long time but assignments change frequently.

2. Marshall always considered 3-5 qualified candidates. Then asked the question, “Does this assignment fit this person?”

3. Marshall studied the performance records of the 3-5 candidates and paid particular attention to the results they achieved, and how they were achieved. It is often the “how” that reveals their strengths.

4. Marshall always discussed their performance with former bosses and colleagues.

5. When the decision was made, Marshall made sure the new hire understood the “assignment”. The best way to that is by asking them to explain their strategy as to how they are going to be successful at the job. Then he closely monitored them for 90 days to see if their strategy was working.

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The 3 Most Important Skills Many Leaders Lack

Most “leaders” today dreadfully lack three important skills. The ability to manage themselves, the ability to make effective decisions and the ability to recognize innovative opportunities.

The evidence that most lack the ability to manage themselves is overwhelming. Most are over stressed, working long hours or doing things that not effective. They have never taken the time to analyze how they are spending their time. The solution is a study of Drucker’s “Managing Oneself” pg 481 in his revised book on Management.

Second, there is no greater example of bad decision making than what we see coming from our nation’s leaders in Washington, D.C. Whether you are considering the economy, health care, the war on terror, securing our borders, Lybia – it doesn’t really seem to matter. Their decision making ability is sub-par across the board. Drucker taught seven steps to effective decision making. The first is does a decision have to be made? This requires thinking like a medical doctor. Is the condition chronic and life threatening? Is it self correcting? If a decision has to be made, has anyone faced this problem before? If so, what did they decide and what were the results?

It is very disappointing to see decisions regarding the country being made that have been tried before and failed miserably. This is not the first time a country has faced a recession or high unemployment. It is also not the first time a country has heaped up unsustainable debt or spending. The outcome has happened so many times that the result is quite certain and so is the solution.

Finally, there is almost a complete ignorance of spotting opportunity. I’ve taught the Drucker Innovation & Entrepreneur program to dozens of CEO’s and MBA’s and each time it is as though the vast majority are learning it anew. There are seven windows of opportunity for innovation that are quite obvious once you develop the skill of spotting them. Demographics is the most reliable predictor of the future. Texas will have a shortfall of 78,000 nurses in the year 2020. This is a door of opportunity that an enterprising person could attempt to solve.

My favorite of the seven windows of opportunity is “unexpected success or failure” but so many “leaders” just don’t get it. The BP oil spill in the Gulf was an “unexpected failure”, which is a window of opportunity for innovation. But what was their reaction? Finger pointing at Transocean who ran the drilling platform. What would have happened if the CEO of BP had used Drucker’s principles and saw this as a window of opportunity for innovation? What if they would have collected all of the best and brightest minds from all of the oil companies around the world and asked the question – how do we, as an industry deal with this type of disaster? How do we innovate? How do we prevent it from happening in the future? How do we proactively and quickly seek and assess ideas? But they didn’t do that. Their finger pointing and attempts to solve the problem in house failed to leave anyone with warm and fuzzy feelings that they had the situation under control. As a result, they failed to take advantage of an unexpected failure as a window of opportunity for innovation.

Our “leaders” have a lot to learn from Peter Drucker

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