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Thursday, November 27, 2014

How to Get the Boss to Behave

     The boss thought he had fired me, but I got his boss to cram me back down his throat.
     It took a year, but he (the firing guy) got me in the end.
     I brought it on myself. I tried it again -- using the “nuclear alternative” of going over my manager’s head – for a second time.
     Take my advice: Don’t do that. It doesn’t work.
     This second round, the manager lined up the political ducks, they stepped aside . . . and my nine-year career in my first real job was over.
     You’d think I would have learned a real lesson, but I didn’t. Until 30+ years later.
     In Scene II, older but not yet wiser, I have taken a radical turn in my life. I am not a newspaper editor/manager any more. Now I’m a consultant/trainer.
     I’m doing role play with employees of a high-tech company, and we’re working on managing conflict situations. As we’re looking for subject matter, my ancient confrontation pops to mind, and I offer it.
     I describe the scene, with the egotistical senior editor posing behind a large desk and the infuriated young city editor (me) leaning in from the other side. At the back of the office, three compliant older editors are lined up to serve as a silent chorus to witness, disapprovingly, the fate of an insubordinate employee.

     Just for perspective, I volunteer to participate in the role play . . . as the domineering manager. A young woman will play Jim Milliken.
     As we got into it, I visualized the tense scene and the climactic moment: In the actual event, he ordered me to sit down. I refused. “Sit down, or you’re fired!” he thundered. I glared, shrugged and walked out. To this day, people tell me I quit. I say I was fired.
     Back to the role play: I demand of this young woman, “You sit down, young man.” She answers, “I’m already sitting down.” Oops. I had forgotten that we’re in chairs, facing each other in this role play, with the video camera rolling.
     Everybody chuckles and we do it over, this time standing.
     In response to the order, she -- sits!
     I couldn’t believe the effect that had on me as the senior person. The heat instantly evaporated from the situation.
     And I’ve wondered ever since: What if I had done that?
     There is no way, considering the intensity of the moment, as well as the history between the boss and me, that I would have at the time.
     But what if I had? Would it have meant collapsing into servitude, as everyone else had done, or could it have been the start of a new – mature – way of managing my relationships and my career?

     The title of this post, “How to Get the Boss to Behave,” is pretty arrogant. It’s also inaccurate, because the emphasis in these notes actually is not on the boss -- it's on MY OWN behavior. The boss’ behavior can change, but it will change only if mine does.
    There’s another story, a positive one, that may be too good to be true. Whether it’s true or not, its moral is worth thinking about.
     It goes like this: A department of a bank is headed by a really bullheaded know-it-all, who doesn’t listen, treats people rudely, etc. All the employees skulk around hoping he won’t notice them. They swallow abuse at meetings with hanging heads, and spend a lot of time muttering in ways we’re all familiar with.
     These two ambitious young employees get together and decide to try something. In their reading, the basic problem is that the man is extremely insecure, and can’t stand the possibility that someone in the department will make a mistake. He is afraid, really afraid, of anything that could make him look bad.
     So the two conspirators set out on a reassurance campaign. They abandon any feelings of anger or frustration when he treats them poorly. They make it a point to get any task done early, and letter-perfect. They are courteous toward the boss, and more – respectful, thoughtful and . . . warm.

     It takes a while, and a lot of patience and tolerance, but the man comes to trust them. Over time, he gives them much greater latitude, seeks their advice, shares information and thoughts with them. The two never disappoint him. They don’t become buddies, but they build a satisfactory relationship with the boss.
     Naturally, their efforts, and the outcome, don’t go unnoticed around the office. They hear a lot from their co-workers. With an eye on the ball, the two recognize the price of their initiative, and they are willing to pay it.
     The lesson is for me to pursue my own clear idea of where my worklife is intended to take me. I seek work that has a place to my long-term intentions; it may be preparing my skills, developing my connections and/or building my resume, but whatever it is I know why I’m there. And how I am to carry myself there.
     In Andy Crowe’s book, “Alpha Project Managers: What the top 2% Know that Everyone Else Does Not,” management of positional authority is one of the seven areas in which outstanding performers are distinguished from their fellows.
     These people don’t worry about whether they have the power to do what needs to be done. They just do it. Their associates, including their own managers, take for granted that they have the authority to act  that  way – not least because they make it their business to do the work well.

     And that’s where it starts: Devoting oneself to learning and practicing excellence in what is to be done.
     That competence is a necessary foundation for true confidence. When you know well what you’re about, you then can work on tuning your intent to do it with energy, enthusiasm and imagination.
     The next, more complex and demanding, front for career advancement, is developing a deep understanding of the people in your work networks. What are their values, needs, interests? How broadly can you trust them to be fully collaborative? Are they partners, or just workplace associates with certain limited possibilities?
     Whatever, it is a function of successful career management to maintain constructive relationships all around. That doesn’t mean you never disagree, or even that there are no arguments. It does mean that you do your very best to make every “transaction” between you and those around you an opportunity for positive growth in the relationships.
     So the boss feels no need to order you to sit down. You’re both sitting already, comfortable in each other’s presence.
SEE ALSO: Career Move: Talk to the Boss

1 comment:

  1. A great read! Own your behavior, be excellent, know your stakeholders, manage your relationships.