Managing Your Boss

March 10, 2005
In a perfect organization, all employees look out for each other, and corporate politics does not result in backstabbing and other destructive behaviors.

In a perfect organization, all employees look out for each other, and corporate politics does not result in backstabbing and other destructive behaviors.

A few months ago, the police chief invited me to serve as a "perp" in a role-play training scenario with his police officers. My partner and I were carjackers who were stopped by the police. In one scenario, I was shot and wounded. During the post-training critique, the instructor covered various aspects of the exercise. When the discussion turned to the use of deadly force, the instructor asked, "Alright, who shot Chief Wolf."

That question, "Who shot Chief Wolf," caused me to think about the different times in my career that I was "shot and wounded" by coworkers and subordinates. In a perfect organization, all employees look out for each other, and corporate politics does not result in backstabbing and other destructive behaviors. I have never heard of nor worked for a perfect organization. The perfect organization exists only in textbooks, and conflict is a part of every organization's culture. Conflict is manageable, and one way to manage conflict is through top down leadership. Another method, though not as readily recognized, is bottom up leadership, sometimes referred to as managing your boss. Bottom up leadership empowers employees and gives them several tools to use so they do not have to take potshots at the boss.

In theory, all employees should want the organization they work for to succeed. In the real world, however, some employees are just there for the paycheck, and organizational success is not high on their list of priorities. Other employees want the organization to succeed, and these employees support the organization through dedication and initiative. These employees may seek additional work or responsibility, and may go to school to increase their knowledge and skills. They may also talk to the boss and offer suggestions. Some people refer to this as kissing up to the boss. In reality, these employees are managing their boss. Managing your boss is nothing more that doing your job and working to make the organization successful. If the organization is successful, your boss is successful, and you are successful. When I was 16, I got my first job sacking groceries. It did not take me long to realize that keeping the customers happy and keeping the boss informed was good for business, which was good for me. My boss recognized my initiative, and I was given more responsibility and quickly moved to a better position.

As a boss, I do not want my employees to rubber-stamp everything I say and do. I do not know everything, and there are people on my department who are smarter than I am in many areas. I want my employees to give me feedback. I want them to tell me if they think I am making a bad decision. I want them to share their ideas with me. If an employee has a problem, I want them to bring a solution to that problem with them when they come into my office. I want to know what they think about the department. Employees who do these things are managing up. Managing up is simply a conscious process of nurturing cooperation, understanding, and trust in a supervisor/subordinate relationship.

Many people may not consciously realize this, but as employees, we have a relationship with our boss. In their article Managing Your Boss (Family Practice Management, June, 2001), Drs. Thomas Zuber and Erika James write, "Managing your boss begins with an understanding of the value of the relationship, which has been described as 'a mutually dependent existence between two fallible individuals.'"

There are several tools one can use to recognize, understand, and nurture that "mutually dependent existence between two fallible individuals." Keep in mind that these tools work best in non-emergency, administrative situations. On the fire ground, use the Incident Command System and follow standard operating procedures.

Do a self-assessment
Start by identifying your own strengths and weaknesses. The Greek philosopher Thales said, "The most difficult thing in life is to know yourself." What are you good at doing? Can you go to school to improve your knowledge, skills, and abilities in your weak areas? What communication medium (written, verbal, visual) works best for you? What is your management style (a source for an inexpensive on-line management style test is Located HERE)? Identify your goals and personal needs and commit them to paper. Keep these in front of you to remind you of your destination. Determine how you want to be managed and then convey your desire to others through your behavior and your interaction with them.

Get to know the boss
You must understand and know your boss before you can determine the approach to take in managing your boss. What type of communication style (visual, verbal, written) works best in reaching the boss? What are your boss's personal and professional goals? If you know this, you can help your boss reach these goals, which puts you in a good position of achieving your own goals. Look at the organization through the eyes of the boss. Remember that the boss has more information about a given situation or project, and the information you have may be incomplete or inaccurate. Keeping this in mind may prevent you from second-guessing the boss on situations that are not to your liking.

Practice Perspective Taking
Put yourself in your boss's position and try to understand his or her point of view. You may gain insight into some aspect of your boss's position that was not readily apparent to you before. When you practice perspective taking, be sure that you

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