Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lead Your Boss

I recently read Lead Your Boss by John Baldoni, The Subtle Art of Managing Up. He was the author of Great Communication Secrets of Great Leaders and Lead By Example.

As most of my readers know, I did not really have a boss (unless you count the Board of Directors) for most of my working career. Then for five years I worked for Synnex, although I was CEO of the Canadian entity, I did have a direct reporting relationship to the CEO in the States.

At some point I may again have a boss.

The title itself makes me think, how do you manage up. After I sold my business to Synnex for the first six months I was depressed thinking it was the worst mistake I had ever made, mostly because I hadn't learned how to manage up. A good friend of mine took me aside when I was complaining about not being able to do what needed to be done and said that I needed to treat it like a sale.

That switch in my head, that reframing caused me to love the five years that I worked at Synnex. They were challenging but I viewed my job as simply selling head office to do the right thing and for some reason I don't get depressed when I don't make a sale, I simply go out and figure out what is a better way to make the sale.

From the book: “Leading up requires great courage and determination, writes Michael Useem, a professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of an eponymously named book that popularized the concept. “We might fear how your superior will respond, we might doubt our right to lead up, but we all carry a responsibility to do what we can when it will make a difference.”

Individuals who lead up are those who demonstrate that they are aware of the bigger picture and are ready, willing, and able to do what needs to be done for the good of the team.”

He suggests in order to do well you need to think like a boss. I guess because I've always been a boss that doesn't take much. His suggestions are to be around, be seen, and be curious.

The obvious is ask what you can do to help.

I found my time at Synnex was made somewhat easier by me doing a weekly report and I turned this into a process I call rollup weekly reports. I would have the people who reported to me do a weekly report, then cut and paste snippets of things I thought should be known by California into a weekly report. Also as my week progressed, if I thought there was something relevant they might not have heard or seen that I would simply put it in a file. When it came time to do my weekly report, I could fairly easily generate it. The weekly report of course always had some of my opinions of what was happening, which was one way for me to subtly sell my points.

Over time, I've modified the weekly report to even include things like having 3 or 4 organizational goals and asking everyone when they do the weekly report to report what they've done on these goals. This is a great way to get a company focused.

Another line which I like to add is what do you need from me. The reason for adding this in, is it makes sure I'm not the stumbling block, although no one can use waiting for something from me as an excuse.

With so many books written about leaders, I'm surprised there aren't more written about how to be a good follower leader (or a good senior person on the team), because there's many more of those positions than there are of the true leaders.

If I ever take another position where I have a boss, I will simply treat it as an additional challenge to the job. And I will study it.


At 8:41 PM, Blogger GPS to GO said...

It helps to be a person with a strong sense of self, a secure place in the world via career or $$ -or a good place to land if leading from under is taken as objectionable by your boss. I as a self employed small business owner have no problems telling the CEO of one of my GPS manufacturers the 3 things I think he's doing exactly wrong & not dancing around it because -- I don't work for him - & if he doesn't like it - too bad -it's easier for some to do this than others perhaps - Some folks who work for someone else are possibly more prone to not speaking up -getting treated as the boss' doormat while others with more hardwired moxy get ahead & are respected by the boss - why? Human nature - the "Pack" mentality -Unless he's a classic boss idiot who got there & doesn't deserve it - any good boss respects hard work followed up with honest suggestions from those with the gumption to tell it like it is, not being a Yes man - leave that for someone else

At 8:56 AM, Anonymous Jim S - Ottawa said...

Great post Jim!

I could have used this about 6 years ago after selling my company.

You've opened my eyes to a concept that never even occured to me. Seeing your boss (in my case first boss) as an obstacle is counter productive. "Selling solutions" (your ideas) to your boss based on aligning his/her needs with those of the organization is a great concept - especially since I'm passionate about sales!!

Next time!

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Alex Revai said...

Managing up should, indeed, be a job requirement for any consciencious and talented employee. And there are many of the latter in most organizations.

Regrettably, bosses, who are receptive to and accepting of employees with good ideas, are few and far between.

Many "bosses" are just that. Bosses. Not leaders, not visionaries, not listeners and not learners. They enjoy their power, play politics and rarely inclined to rock the boat.

Unfortunately, they sense that even if they fail (or ruin their companies), they are going to fall on comfortable cushions.

True leaders will encourage "managing up" by their employees. They will appreciate and welcome such attempts and will recognize the "manage-uppers". Only, where are these leaders?

At 10:59 AM, Anonymous Pamela F. Herrmann said...

Hi first time to come to come across your site. This is very inspiring and pushy. But of course, it is the good side of being pushy.
Pushy to maximize one's potential or coming out of their box. To rise from the ranks, one must start by seeing things the way the higher up does then do the kill. This is really nice. people who is preparing to climb the ladder of success should be one with this thought because he surely will never get lost!

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note to let you know that my book about BlackBerry and Research In Motion will be published next month. If your schedule permits, I'd be delighted to see you at the book launch March 2, 5:30-7 p.m. at Books for Business, 120 Adelaide St. W., Toronto.
Thanks again for your help.
Rod McQueen

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Clay Ward said...

My experience with staff that wanted to lead up (from both sides of that isle) is that it could be very good or disastrous.

The premise of my perspective is that bosses generally do a thankless job... They're often seen as "in the way" by talented staff. And when they're doing great everything is running smoothly and no one notices their hard work. Plus a good boss deliberately passes credit for success onto their team. So it can be easy to feel unappreciated as a boss (I know, it's not always easy to care.)

So if you make sure to show your appreciation to a boss then you have a lot of capital to work with as far as leading up. But if you don't... if you even hint at dissatisfaction in a boss's work when you try to lead up... then you're in for disaster.


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