Nearly everyone I know wishes their boss or manager led better or at least differently. They act like they are powerless to motivate or influence their boss.
Motivating and influencing your boss is one of the main things I work on with clients. It’s also one of the most empowering things they experience. Yes, dealing with a hard-to-deal-with manager can be encouraging, not discouraging. I’ll give a top-level overview of one technique to lead your manager to support you to do the work you want. With clients we practice the skills so they can practice and make mistakes with me so they don’t with their bosses, but the technique works. It’s not the only way that works, but it does.
Start by understanding them. Nearly everyone reacts to managers’ behavior they don’t like with “Why did they do that?!?!” as a rhetorical question implying “There’s no good reason for what they did,” pointing them away from understanding. If you don’t understand someone, you’ll have a hard time influencing them or even getting them to listen to you. You’ll motivate them to see you as a problem.
Assume that from their perspective their behavior made sense. Then ask the same question open-ended. Figure out why they did what they did. You’ll know you understand their behavior when it makes sense to you. You don’t have agree with them, just understand them.
Learn their goals for their job (and life, to the extent you can). This step expands on the last step. Whatever they did fits into a bigger picture of what they wanted to achieve. Do they want to be rich, famous, or powerful? They might, though those goals usually stand in for something else. Do they want to change the world in some specific way? Security for their family? Make their parents proud? Take on more responsibility? Have more people report to them? … Everyone has something unique. Find out what.
The better you understand your boss and their goals, the more they’ll feel like you get it — whatever “it” is for them.
Show how you doing what you want or your boss doing what you want them to as helping them achieve their goal. “Hey boss, you know how you were hoping to get that project approved by your boss? I think I know something that can help. If I finished that project I described to you yesterday, it will free your time to …” or “… if you get me working with R&D on that project yours depends on, you’ll have more to present about.” Stuff like that. You can say similar things a million ways.
Many people can’t see how to help their bosses because they don’t know what their bosses want. Everyone wants to make progress on their projects or their interests. If you don’t understand their perspectives and interests, you can’t frame your projects in their world and show how it helps them.
Most people dislike their bosses so much they can’t stomach the idea of getting to know them better. They want to keep their distance. They consider understanding needs their boss’s responsibility. Well, if you want to do something, you’ll get a lot farther taking responsibility for it yourself.
Ask yourself this: Do you want to get things done and swallow your pride or make yourself useless and miserable but proud?
You know that resentment holding you back? Getting to understand your boss will cause it to dissipate and make you less miserable.
Follow up by showing how their giving you authority helped both you and them. Showing your progress and theirs and showing your appreciation will motivate them to help you again. After a few cycles, your relationship will become more productive and friendly and you’ll become happier.
What not to do
I don’t recommend assuming your boss is incompetent, bad, evil, or has a personal vendetta against you. No matter how much you feel that way, such self-righteousness doesn’t produce productive results in relationships nor happiness in yourself.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book