Who’s Your Boss?
I’m a scientist. You know, the guy who was off in his own little world when you knew him in high school, doodling in his notebook while not listening to the teacher, finishing his science experiment in ten minutes and then working on his other homework while you suffered through your own only to get a C in the course while I got an A. The scientist guy who wasn’t that good with people (to say the least) but was as self-contained as a hog on ice when it came to fussy, complicated, intellectual tasks.
Okay, I’m not quite that guy. I am good with people, though I do like sitting by myself at the bench and doing repetitive, fussy, intellectually difficult tasks.
But now you’re working in a high-tech industry – and what business isn’t high tech now, from a factory making socks to Google? And who’s your boss? Me. Or someone even more like the stereotype than me.
Boss Management 101
You took courses in college, or high school, that you sat through and doodled in your notebook during and wondered what the heck this shite could possibly do for your future. Advanced algebra? Shakespeare? What hey, are you going to integrate areas under curves or recite sonnets in your future career? Answer: sometimes you will, and maybe something off the beaten path will be valuable. But,
You missed the Big Course. The one your college didn’t offer. That, as far as I know, no college offers. Boss Management 101.
Because your boss, your manager, is more important to your job success and satisfaction than any other factor. Perhaps you got a job cleaning human shit out of reeking, rat-infested sewer pipes, and your boss’ deep concern for your welfare, or entire lack of caring, made no difference to your job satisfaction. But in any other job your satisfaction with your boss is essentially equal to your own satisfaction with your job.
Doubt it? Read First, Break All the Rules, a nice piece by authors from the Gallup organization who ran a massive poll of workers (about 1,000,000) and managers (about 100,000) in order to understand what factors make businesses work from the perspective of their employees and managers. Their take away message: good managers = success, bad managers = failure. And success = happy employees, and failure = employees who leave quickly, or who stay and are unhappy and not terribly productive.
So, how do you manage your boss? First, pick a good one. Do your homework. Find out who he or she is, and put your ear to the ground. During your interview, assess your prospective boss. Does he seem to care about his employee’s careers? Because that’s what a manager’s job is: to develop his employee’s careers. To build teams that consist of people who feel that their jobs are more than just pieces put together to complete a jigsaw puzzle, but are instead pursuing dynamic, rewarding, creative, and, dare I say it, fun ways for them to make a living and spend the better part of their lives. And also being pieces that fit into a nuanced, productive jigsaw puzzle.
Second, live with him. Become a friend, a confidant, a partner. If you can’t, I suggest that you should move on. Because, if you don’t know your boss in a fairly intimate way, you don’t know your boss. I’ve lived that story, assumed that divergent paths just meant divergent interests but still meant convergent paths, and boy!, was I sorely disappointed. I didn’t know my boss, and I paid the price.
And when you’ve picked a good one, don’t let off the gas pedal. I’ve had long, successful (and failed) relationships, and it takes constant attention to succeed. We’d like to think that we can sail forward into the future, the more relaxed and carefree the better, but I beg to differ. You don’t make a fine sculpture, a great cheese soufflé, or a long-term relationship by sailing and relaxing and being carefree. Or rather, you do – but it’s in combination with attention to details, awareness of issues and a willingness to deal with them, and some craftiness.
Which is where the great boss managers differ from the merely acceptable. Be crafty. Think of yourself as a great martial artist facing their nemesis. Your subtlety, your fakes and retreats and sudden, unexpected attacks are the key to your ability to win.
Same thing with boss management. My boss worries about time on the job, sees people coming in comfortably late and leaving comfortably early as an existential issue for his own career. I see the people, and their real productivity, and I take proactive steps to assuage his anxieties. Because my workplace is productive, and, more importantly, is fun, and supportive, and collaborative.
And there is the challenge for the middle manager. There is a balance between hours spent working, and productivity, and the attractiveness of your workplace to high performing people, and fun. My emphasis is on fun (of course), because I have personally experienced the extremes of both states. I’ve been in workplaces that were just no fun, and I now work in a lab that’s fun in a very relaxing, forward-looking, collaborative, cooperative, and pleasant way. I know from verifiable scientific measures which one is more productive.
So boss management is more than simply getting that bad boy off your back. It’s about helping her tune her organization to accomplish her, and your, and especially your subordinate’s, goals. To make it all work without directly involving your boss, at least for almost all decisions. There is an old and pithy saying that goes something like “never involve your boss in a decision he doesn’t need to know about,” that I recommend to you.
Don’t conceal anything. Don’t play fast and loose. But do accept the responsibility for the decisions that you could pass up to your boss, but, if you’d just stepped up, could be handled at your level. Have your subordinate’s backs, protect them from the political flack, and that includes your boss’ moodiness and anxieties. You deal with them. You be the one who backs your people and helps them develop. You look out for the fun, and make sure it increases.
I love you. Stay the course, and