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!