Teresa wanted to see the big picture strategy before discussing specifics. Tom wanted general ideas with time to think before deciding. Paul wanted to give orders that were followed to the “T”.
To be successful, each of these bosses required a unique approach. The approach that worked for one wouldn’t stand a chance with another. You can save time and frustration by giving serious consideration to the approach, topics and personal agendas of your boss. Here are five areas to study about your boss so that you can be more effective in your job. Let’s face it, a happy boss makes for happier days at work!
Communication style. Save yourself time and headaches by studying your boss’s communication style in advance and adapting your approach.
Their communication styles couldn’t have been more different. Teresa expected me to lay out the big picture, have a clear strategy and logical recommendations for next steps. I learned to be thoughtful, prepared and develop my recommended action plan. And it worked…with her. When I changed jobs, I used this same approach with Tom. It was a miserable failure. After a few flops, I learned the hard way, that he was a tactician who looked no farther than the next move and he needed time to think about each step. He needed to come up with the answer – not me. I learned to present general ideas, brainstorm briefly and walk out the door. In a day or two, he’d come back with his own thoughts about the situation and we’d move forward.
What’s your boss’s communication style:
|Big picture thinker||Wants all the details|
|Visual learner||Auditory learner|
|Wants the story||Wants the data|
|Gets down to business||Chats first|
|Quick decision-maker||Needs to ponder|
Mariana was a hard-charging Gen Xer intent on making a name for herself. She took uncommon risks on projects that, if successful, would garner attention within the organization and industry. John saw a succession of managers get fired from the position he now held. Not wishing to follow their lead, he was super-duper conservative in his decision-making. He kept a low profile, backed no risky projects, and shied away from controversy. He opted to stay in the middle of the road and to not rock the boat (to mix land and sea metaphors).
What’s your boss’s power position?
|On the way up||On the way out|
|Well-connected internally||Isolated internally|
|Risk tolerant||Risk averse|
|Promoting him/herself||Promoting the organization|
|Political aspirations||No political aspirations|
|Well-connected externally||Isolated externally|
Personal interests. Every boss has personal interests or pet projects. These are areas that hold special passion and where they want to make an impact. It’s helpful to know their area of interest and why it’s an area of interest. Their “why” can range from an intellectual interest to a personal passion based on a traumatic event in their life (such as the death of a friend due to drunk driving).
Patti cared about motorcycles in transportation policy and safety. Jose cared about cyclists. In both cases, we always had a project of some sort that included motorcycles and/or cyclists. Felicia wanted to leave a legacy of safety advancements.
What are your boss’s personal interest areas and why?
|Intellectual interest||Personal interest|
|Mild interest||Avid interest|
|Focused on leaving a legacy in this area||Nice to make an impact if feasible|
|Interest area is central to your mission||Interest area is tangential to the mission|
|Easy to accommodate their interest||It’s a stretch to accommodate their interest|
Personalities and background. Your boss’s background can provide clues to working effectively with her.
Mike was a southerner who came from a military background. Consequently, he was the epitome of a southern gentleman who valued respect, protocol and manners. Always soft-spoken and polite, he expected a calm, courteous exchange with gracious acceptance of his final decision. Yvonne was young and proud of her accomplishments. She was successful because she was well-connected. She knew everyone who mattered. In briefings, she wanted to know who would “win” and who would “lose” because of her decision. She needed to understand the political connections within and outside the organization.
What do you know about your boss’s personal history and career background? What experiences will have colored her perspective and how?
|Rural upbringing||Urban upbringing|
|Raised in the United States||Raised outside the United States|
|Large family||Only child|
|Prestigious educational background||Other educational background|
|Work experience in the private sector||Work experience in the public sector|
|Work experience in associations||Work experience in academia|
|Extensive leadership experience||Limited leadership experience|
Their Headaches and frustrations. What keeps your boss up at night? What are her daily headaches? What phone call does he dread and who is it from?
Bill was the executive director of a professional association. Effective and efficient, his day went downhill when his Board Chair called to discuss “an issue.” To support him, we had to consider the Board’s reception to each topic in advance so that Bill didn’t get “the call.”
Joanne just wanted to stay under the radar – nothing controversial, nothing high profile – just let her do her work quietly without fanfare. She dreaded a call from anyone “up the chain.” She cringed when she was asked a tough question in a senior staff meeting. The trick to working with Joanne was to ensure that all potentially sticky issues were resolved before she engaged. We went forward only with projects where the wrinkles had been ironed out in advance.
John wanted it his way and he didn’t like anyone who got in his way. He didn’t want someone telling him that he couldn’t move forward as planned. He didn’t want to hear about roadblocks or setbacks. Our job was to demolish the roadblocks and find ways to achieve his goals no matter what.
How dialed in are you to your boss’s worries and concerns?
|Issues with problematic staff||Issues with a tough boss|
|Problems with internal stakeholders||Problems with external stakeholders|
|Financial concerns||Process concerns|
|Lacks trust from others||Feels like an outsider|
|Struggling to change the culture||Struggling to fit into the culture|
|Customer complaints||Staff complaints|
|Dropping sales||Staff attrition|
|Technology disruption||Managing change|
Assess your boss using these five areas. See if you can walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes her tick. Now, use that information to adapt your briefing style, the way you approach them for decisions, and the type of interaction you have with them. The more you can work from their perspective, the more effective you are likely to be and with the least amount of stress and frustration. Try it and let me know how it goes!