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Suddenly in Charge
Managing Up, Managing Down, Succeeding All Around
By Roberta Chinsky Matuson
Nicholas Brealey PublishingCopyright © 2011 Roberta Chinsky Matuson
All rights reserved.
Excuse Me, Where Do I Find the Decoder Ring?
Understanding Your Boss's Style of Management
How I long for the Sixties. Back in those days, you could receive a free decoder ring inside boxes of select breakfast cereals. I can't say for sure if that ring really worked, as I wasn't allowed to venture too far outside the four walls of the playroom. But for a young child, there was something magical about that ring. Once you put it on, it felt like you could decode anything. There have been many times in my career as a manager when I wished I had kept that ring. Maybe I would have had an easier time understanding where my boss was coming from.
I'm a bit older now and am forced to live in the world of reality, where decoder rings are a thing of the past. Or are they? Consider this chapter a modern version of a decoder ring: read it carefully to unlock the hidden secrets of your boss's management style. By doing so, you will be able to adjust your expectations and communication style so you can achieve a prosperous and peaceful coexistence with one of the most important people in your life — your boss.
Why Understanding Your Boss's Style of Management Is So Critical
Legendary management visionary Peter Drucker, author of The Practice of Management, wrote, "You don't have to like or admire your boss, nor do you have to hate him. You do have to manage him, however, so that he becomes your resource for achievement, accomplishment, and personal success." Although Drucker wrote this book in 1954, his words are timeless. This statement is particularly relevant for today's workers, as people are scrambling for fewer opportunities, courtesy of the downsizing that has taken place over the past several years.
Your success in the organization is completely dependent on how well you manage your relationship with your boss. Your boss has the codes to unlock doors that will remain closed if you fail to nurture this relationship. He is the one who can advocate on your behalf for more resources. He can play a critical role in linking you with key people throughout the organization, and he can also ensure that you are assigned to projects that will provide you with continued growth. And of course he is the one who can advocate on your behalf to ensure you are rewarded appropriately for a job well done.
You have to take responsibility for the development and maintenance of your relationship with your boss. No one will have more of an interest in making sure your relationship helps you achieve your goals than you. You may be thinking that you are just as vital to your boss's success as she is to yours, and that is somewhat true. Your boss is indeed less likely to achieve her goals without your support. However, your boss probably has other direct reports she can rely on, while you most likely have only one boss. You most certainly won't progress, or even stay employed, without your manager's support.
In Power and Influence: Beyond Formal Authority, John Kotter writes that developing and maintaining effective relationships with bosses involves four basic steps. These are:
1. Get as much detailed information as possible about your boss's goals, strengths, weaknesses, and preferred working style and about the pressures on your boss.
2. Make an honest self-appraisal about your own needs, objectives, strengths, weaknesses, and personal style.
3. Armed with this information, create a relationship that fits both parties' key needs and styles, and one in which both you and your boss understand what is expected of you.
4. Maintain the relationship by keeping the boss informed, behaving dependably and honestly, and using the boss's time and other resources selectively.
Cynics and people who don't know any better may assume that the only reason people put the effort into cultivating solid working relationships with their bosses is for political gain. The reality is that people work in complex organizations where their bosses are pulled in many directions. To get the attention and support you will need to succeed in your role as a leader, you will need to take responsibility for managing these relationships.
Breaking the Code: How to Decipher Your Boss's Management Style
The problem with bosses is that no two are alike. Right about the time you've figured out what your boss needs, you get promoted. That is, you get promoted if you've done a good job of managing your boss. Otherwise, you may find yourself on Craigslist searching for a new job. We are also living at a time of greater diversity of bosses. With our global economy, you may have a boss who is from another country or who may actually live in that other country while he manages you remotely. Exciting? Yes. Easy to manage? Not so much.
Sherry Walshak, marketing manager for Worldwide Solutions and Industries, Hewlett Packard, has had plenty of experience decoding the management style of her many bosses, whose backgrounds draw from all across the globe. When you work for a company as big as Hewlett Packard, it's quite common to be assigned to a new work group, which means another new boss to decode. Walshak offers the following advice to those who are starting out with a new boss:
1. Don't assume anything. Don't assume that what you are thinking is an appropriate way of communicating with a new boss and that this approach is going to match his needs and style.
2. Ask your boss how he prefers to receive communications from you. For example, does he prefer a weekly status report or would he rather meet every other week for a one-on-one? By asking this up front, you may avoid wasting time writing reports that he will never read.
3. You need to scan your environment. Is it fast paced? Are you working for a large, multinational corporation or in an industry marked by lots of acquisitions and consolidations? Is your boss so busy that she has little time for the details and barely has time for the facts? If so, it's your responsibility to adjust your communication style by providing her with a summary of the findings and recommendations of your project, rather than providing all the details.
4. You have to test whatever you are going to recommend. What I mean by this is that you must test your conclusions with the people who are going to be using the results of your work. That information becomes your secret weapon. For example, suppose you are responsible for providing sales tools to people who will sell your products and services. You can test your results by providing a summary of the tools to the end users to find out which tools they believe will be most effective. Then, when you are presenting to senior management, casually mention a comment or two from the people who will be using the tools. This approach demonstrates that you've done your due diligence and your work is credible.
5. Tell people what they need to know. Keep asking yourself, "So what? Does this person really need to know this?" If not, move on.
"I've learned over the years that you have to adapt your style to your boss and the environment you work in," states Walshak. "For example, early on in my career, I worked as a vice president of data processing for a small advertising firm. There, my boss was located in the next office over. We had a chance to establish a trusting relationship. He saw me every day. He trusted my recommendations and was very hands off. I now work in a situation where my boss is located across the country from me and his boss is in Europe. We have little opportunity to really get to know one another. Therefore, the level of trust is not nearly as strong as it has been with my previous employers. One thing I try to do is to listen more to what they are saying. I adjust my pace. I give them time to catch up to my thinking. I give my boss small digestible chunks of information, which helps me build trust and understanding."
Walshak understands that decoding her boss is one skill she will continue to fine-tune throughout her career.
Common Types of Managers
Managers come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and styles. Here, we'll focus on four common styles you're likely to encounter in the workplace. Don't be alarmed if your boss doesn't fit perfectly into any of these categories. People often overlap, or they may move from one category to another with little warning.
Management styles can be identified by the way a manager uses authority, the way she relates to others, whether or not she encourages and values input from her people, and by the way she, as a leader, communicates.
THE DICTATORIAL MANAGER
This style of management is also referred to as a military, or authoritative, style. The manager who follows this style gives out orders and expects everyone to fall into line, without question. He makes all the decisions about what will be done, who will be assigned which task, how the work will be completed, and when it will be completed. Employees who fail to follow directions may feel like they are being court-martialed. The more fortunate are offered an honorary discharge, more commonly referred to as "early retirement."
Common traits of managers who embrace this style are that he is the only one who knows what is going on; is always right; isn't interested in hearing other people's views; discourages dissent; may allow some discussion, then ignores what is said; closely monitors every task; does not allow others to question decisions or authority; can often be heard yelling at subordinates; and motivates through fear.
It would be great if you could run from a manager who displays this type of behavior, but not everyone has that choice. You may live in a small town where good jobs are scarce, or you may be the sole support for your family. Possibly, you may need to stick it out because you cannot be without health insurance.
I'm not going to lie and say that you are going to be able to tame this lion. I will, however, offer some advice on how you can stay in the cage without being mauled.
Survival in this situation requires that you depersonalize the matter. The reason your boss acts this way has little to do with you. It's more about him. I've learned from personal experience that situations like this can make you physically ill. You can also lose your self-esteem, which in the end will prevent you from breaking loose because your boss will have convinced you that no one else will want you. Following are some ways to manage your relationship with The Dictator:
Pick your battles — If you know you've got a boss who enjoys going to battle with his charges, then give him very little ammunition. If his order isn't a matter of life and death, then do what he asks. If you are lucky, he will focus his wrath on someone who isn't falling into line as easily.
Anticipate your boss's needs — Dictatorial bosses love to catch people making mistakes. You can avoid falling into this trap by being prepared at all times. For example, if your boss is known for walking into people's offices demanding the latest figures, have a cheat sheet on hand so you can quickly respond should you be asked to do so.
Do your job well — It's difficult to excel when you are working under these conditions, but that is exactly what you must do. Do a great job so that the boss spends most of her day in someone else's cubicle.
Establish credibility — It's going to take a longer period of time to build trust with a manager who falls into this category, but that doesn't mean it is impossible to do so. Give her exactly what she needs, when she needs it, and eventually she will cut back on the micromanaging.
THE LAISSEZ-FAIRE MANAGER
Everyone dreams about having a manager who is completely hands off. That is, until he gets a boss who is an extreme version of hands off. Managers who fall under this umbrella communicate very little with their direct reports. They believe people will know exactly what to do through osmosis. These are the same managers who will tell you at review time you aren't meeting their expectations, even though they never told you what they were. That's why it's important to closely manage this type of boss, even if it's from afar.
A less extreme version of this type of manager will tell you what you need to know to do your job and will then get out of your way so you can do it. If this group of managers were to have t-shirts printed up they would say, "If you don't hear from me, then everything is fine!" Traits commonly associated with hands-off managers are: limited communication; an expectation that the people under their domain are capable of managing themselves; and a belief that their direct reports can handle their own problems with little guidance or intervention. These managers also believe in high accountability. They feel that if they are giving you this level of trust, you had best deliver. Here are some ideas on how to manage The Laissez-Faire Manager:
Be respectful of her time — These types of managers are typically bottom line people. If they wanted to chitchat, they'd be more hands on. Therefore, it is important to keep your conversations brief. Think about what you want to say to this person and then cut that conversation in half. This approach will force you to be succinct, which is highly valued in this time-starved world.
Ask questions — With this type of boss, you are going to have to ask lots of questions, since laissezfaire bosses are either too busy to give you direction or really don't know enough about what you are supposed to be doing to provide adequate guidance. The latter isn't uncommon, particularly in cases where a manager has just been given control over a department he knows little about or has come into his position without moving up through the ranks. The first question you will need to ask is what form of communication he prefers to use when receiving and responding to your questions. Does he want you to email questions as they come up? Or does he prefer you hold all questions for a weekly meeting? Would he rather you to handle questions the old-fashioned way — by picking up the phone?
Keep her informed — Yes, I did just say that when it comes to conversations, this type of manager believes less is more. However, no one likes surprises, not even a manager who is hands off. This means the onus is on you to come to her with questions, problems, and suggestions. You have to keep your boss informed about the direction you are heading, potential problems on the horizon, and any other factors that may come back to bite you if the information comes from someone else.
Be prepared to manage your own performance — If you want a good evaluation (or any evaluation, for that matter), you are going to have to take control of your performance review. A hands-off manager can't possibly be aware of all the contributions you have made. That's why it is your responsibility to remind her of what you've accomplished.
Several weeks prior to your review, provide your boss with a detailed self-evaluation highlighting your contributions during the review period, as well as what you have done to meet your specific goals. Write a well-balanced review. List areas of strengths, as well as areas in which you need continued development. If you acknowledge the areas in which you are working to improve, your boss is more likely to accept your self-evaluation as a fair assessment and will most likely use this information to write her version of your performance review. Don't be surprised when the review you are asked to sign looks exactly like what you submitted!
THE BUREAUCRATIC BOSS
These are the bosses who do everything by the rules, even if the rules don't make sense anymore. You'll most likely find these types of bosses in hierarchical organizations like government agencies, hospitals, large service firms, and established family businesses. Characteristics of bureaucratic bosses include the need to be in control and a desire for structure, systems processes, and norms. "We've always done it that way," can be heard echoing through the halls of organizations where paintings of these traditionalists line the walls. Here are ways to manage The Bureaucratic Boss:
Learn the rules — The best way to handle a bureaucratic boss is to learn the rules and regulations of the organization. By doing so, you will have a better understanding of the traditions that have taken hold in the organization. This approach will allow you to pick and choose your battles carefully.
Follow protocol — When you approach your boss about doing something, you need to show him that you've gone through the proper channels prior to coming to him for final approval. You do this by dropping names of people you have spoken to about this matter.
Be patient — Realize that change is slow to take hold in organizations built on the foundations of bureaucracy. You may have to wait until there is a changing of the guard before your ideas can take shape. If rules aren't your thing, consider finding an organization that is less traditional in nature.
Excerpted from Suddenly in Charge by Roberta Chinsky Matuson. Copyright © 2011 Roberta Chinsky Matuson. Excerpted by permission of Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
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