From Leaders and Managers: Followers make leaders
Readings from pages 111 and 112-113
KEY: An effective relationship with your boss increases the likelihood of success in your job.
Try to understand your boss. Gabarro and Kotter put it this way: “At a minimum, you need to appreciate your boss’s goals and pressures, his or her strengths and weaknesses. What are your boss’s organizational and personal objectives, and what are his or her pressures, especially those from his or her own boss and others at the same level?” Know your boss’s blindspots, preferred working style, preferred communication patterns, and how your boss deals with conflict.
In a classic Harvard Business Review article in 1977, Wickham Skinner and W. Earl Sasser listed attributes of management style. Their list suggests questions that make a good starting point for thinking about your boss.
- Does your boss tend to be more intuitive or analytical?
- Make decisions unilaterally or consult with others?
- Make fast decisions or take time?
- Is flexible in opinion or doggedly single-minded?
- Likes or does not like to delegate?
- Is usually available or just occasionally?
- Has a lot of rules to follow or just a few?
- Relaxed pace or hectic?
- Supportive or demanding, even challenging?
If you can answer most of these questions, you probably understand your boss fairly well. If you cannot, you have some work to do. Without such information, you are “flying blind when dealing with the boss, and unnecessary conflicts, misunderstandings, and problems are inevitable.” It is your job as a subordinate to adjust to your boss’s style. It is not the other way around. Know your boss and adapt.
If you know your boss’s goals, you will have a better idea where you can help, what you might do. You may be able to offer suggestions, that may or may not be used, but the good bosses will appreciate the effort. It can often be difficult for those in leadership positions to get honest feedback.
Akeem worked in a small firm of construction engineers. They consulted and worked on a wide variety of projects. Akeem specialized in electrical engineering.
One day he was in the office of the CEO, Brooke Jasonete, when the conversation was interrupted by a phone call. It was a business matter, an engineering issue that had to be addressed so she took the call. Finishing the conversation, Brooke said, “I understand. I’ll have one of the boys give you a call,” and with that she hung up. Akeem cringed a little. He had heard Brooke call the engineers “boys” on several occasions. He did not like it. Among the “boys”, it was something they joked about. Most did not think anything of it but it bothered Akeem and several others.
“Brooke, a small matter. Several times I’ve heard you refer to the engineers as ‘the boys’. We’re all men and highly qualified engineers. I’m not sure calling us boys creates the best impression.”
Brooke thought for a moment.
“Akeem, you are absolutely right. I have never thought about that before. I grew up with three brothers and they are still the boys to me. But your point is valid. I appreciate the feedback.”
And she never called the engineers “boys” again.
Leaders need followers who are not afraid to speak out and who will tell the truth. The very best leader-follower relationships will be relationships of trust. Mary Follett suggested that in the leadership situation, both the leader and the followers are following an “invisible leader — the common purpose.” Understanding your boss and your relationship with you boss will make both of you more effective in pursuing the common purpose.