How to train your boss, and they won’t even know it!

A group of people sitting around a table.
Does your team think?
August 20, 2019
A woman standing at the table with two other women.

Don’t waste your energy wishing your boss would change. Take some simple steps to get what you need.

How is it that so much stuff the boss does is unhelpful? What happened to them when they got promoted? Why is everything a priority? Why do they let such bad behaviour happen at Exec meetings? Why don’t they ever say well done? Why is it that none of his/her direct reports is doing anything about it, instead we adapt and find a way to get by? Why……?!

Your time & energy are your most valuable resources. They are a gift & an opportunity. Yet it feels like much of that time & energy gets wasted when you don’t get what you need from your boss. You rehearse in your mind what you want to say to them, and yet you never say it!

That time & energy is limited. So don’t waste it. You owe it to yourself and the people who work for you, to get the best you can from your boss. And your boss is just a human being with pressures and self-doubt just like you (well most of them are!); so there is a good chance that they can do better if they are nudged in the right direction.

Here are some key questions to ask yourself, and then take the answers in to action.

A) What is his/her leadership style? & how can you harness it?

This may sound like s strange question. But how can you ‘manage upwards’ if you haven’t actually sat and thought how your boss leads? Are they a ‘hub & spokes’ leader – managing each of the Exec team separately to drive an agenda, or are they team builders seeking a team which will make decisions together? Do they like to be among the people, or prefer to spend time with a few advisors? When they talk about leadership what do you hear them say? What is important to them? When are they most relaxed and open, and what situations cause them to be stressed? Take all the thoughts, simplify them, & then think how you can harness their style, their behaviours to get the best from them.

B) What can they uniquely do & what can you uniquely do?

This is critical question to help establish priorities. The higher you climb, the less chartered the waters & the more often you have to make your own, often difficult, judgement calls, & convey your genuine vision. This can be tough. So, without really knowing, sometimes leaders avoid their unique leadership responsibilities, and instead spend their time reviewing and improving the work of their teams. But making everyone else’s work 10% better is not leadership.

The first question to ask is ‘what can I uniquely do to deliver the critical business outcomes’? And make these things your top priorities. For example, an Exec leader’s list might include …. contracting with the Board, being the visible external voice of the business (giving pride & confidence to your people), establishing & holding a culture of mutual accountability, rigour & collaboration in the Exec team…. not progress chasing my direct reports! Ask the same question of yourself. Arrange a discussion with your boss of your own proposed priorities (‘uniquely do’s’), & once agreed use them as the framework for your delivery through the year. Now your boss has seen how to do it (!), you can gently ask whether in your next meeting they could share their priorities / ‘uniquely do’s’ with you!

C) What else is going on in their life?

A significant part of the ‘why’ in ‘why are they behaving like that at work’ is initially invisible to us. It is the context of the rest of their lives. What is happening at home – are they getting divorced, do they have sick / dependent parents, are their children leaving home? How is their health? This is not about prying, it is just about standing back & thinking what is going on for this human being, and how you might be able to take this in to account in how you work to get the best from them & for them. It could for example lead you to find the best moments to speak with them or to find common (non-work) subjects to talk about, thus building rapport.

Consider the home context, and the work context – in particular if they are new in role. Transition in to new roles is really tough. Yet business culture gives leaders little if any transition time. Rather, the more senior you are, the faster you are meant to know the answers. And once you have set your path, it is doubly hard to change direction, because you cannot be seen to have made a mistake! Then the only options are to push on regardless (work everyone harder & harder) or blame others because they ‘did not follow the plan’ (followed by changes in the team!). So, if they are new in role, this is a particularly important time to engage with them to shape the agenda and behaviours for the future.

With this information you will better create your plan how to gently train your boss!

And ask all the questions of yourself too – it will give you some great insights to how you lead your own people

Peter Soer
Peter Soer
Peter combines experience as a coach, marketing leader & someone who has faced the fear of being found out. He harnesses this experience with his natural optimism & determination, to help people thrive in their work and enjoy the life they want. To achieve our dreams, we have 2 resources, time and energy – so use them well.

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