Managing Your Boss By Managing Yourself

Managing up, as you may already know, can be challenging. Effectively influencing your boss includes sound communication, anticipating present and future needs, awareness of your boss’s personality and leader style and possibly the acumen to recognize availability tells – those clues that indicate when the timing is right.

Work relationships are, well, workable for most – if one is open to considering new paths they can also be transforming. I do realize there are bad bosses out there and thus, unhappy employees; one of the most frequent reasons for leaving employment is a poor relationship with the boss.

Taking an active role to improve your relationship is the first tact. A mutual exchange of ideas, plans, and strategies between you and your boss should be pursued in vigorous fashion before you consider jumping ship. If you feel you’ve reached the state of “What’s the use? “or worse, “I hate my boss,” then read on.

Note: If you believe your boss engages in harmful, toxic, and destructive leadership behaviors, this exercise won’t solve that problem, however, it may yield information that can enable you to better understand your own response.  There are many books and articles related to dealing with bad bosses and we can assist as well if requested.  The exercise, however, is worthwhile as you will have more information about you.

“Know thyself” 

Consider your:

  1. Personality
  2. Strengths
  3. Liabilities – (those attitudes and behaviors where improvement is needed)

You may have completed a personality or style inventory (the MBTI and the DiSC are two of the most popular). Some leaders find the Enneagram helpful- this model, to some, is a more holistic approach to understanding the interconnectedness of personality types. Other sources of information include peer reviews, and performance appraisal feedback.  Importantly, it is your responsibility to obtain information from sources other than yourself. If you have questions related to inventories, use our “Contact Us” portal with your question – we’re happy to assist.

Tip: Approaching three co-workers whom you believe will provide honest answers to these 3 areas can yield significant information.

Once you’ve completed the above, take a sheet of paper, turn horizontally, and draw three equidistant lines so you have 4 columns on your paper. On the farthest left column write the heading “Situation,” on the next column write “Response,” on the next column write the heading “Past Experience” and in the final column enter the heading “Current Experience.”   Leave room for 3-5 entries.

List situations (events) involving your boss that stand out for you. Then, in the next column, list how you responded to your boss in each situation using 1-2 word descriptions.  Next, describe your past experience of your boss at the time of each event (here you can write just a bit more per each entry).  Now, after review of the information you have gathered in the “Know thyself” exercise, enter 1-2 word descriptors of your current experience of these situations.

Why list the “response” column first?  Wouldn’t your experience of your boss, or anyone for that matter, provide you with needed information?  Interestingly, no. Examining significant events focuses our brain. People are usually asked “How did you feel?”  A very good question indeed.  But after the discovery of new information we ask, “What is your current experience now?” as your awareness may have shifted.   Tuning in to our inner experience requires thought and consideration. At first, this process can feel awkward and time consuming but engaging in this exercise and being mindful of new information can be a powerful self-check tool for challenging Work/Life encounters.

I have found this process can lead to meaningful insight into your boss relationship and certainly other significant relationships in your life. You may now be looking at a larger picture of what you bring “to the table.” Also, remember that your boss hasn’t performed this exercise – they too have a worldview that probably doesn’t include significant “pieces of the puzzle.”

Responses are usually many and varied. If, for example, your personality type and your bosses’ type are similar, it’s no surprise that tension is present- we often respond negatively to people who remind of… us!  Interestingly, when you have been in a long-term relationship (friendly or romantic) with someone, odds are you and that friend or SO will have dissimilar personalities and yet you both may find this to be helpful, not hurtful. One major difference here is that these people are not in a position of formal authority over you- they are not your boss.

Delving more deeply into personality types descriptions can be very useful in understanding why we “click” with some and, in contrast, engage in the “fight or flight” response with others.  Work groups often report that examining their own and their co-workers’ personality types produces dividends for all involved.

Let us know about your experience, thanks!

Joe Lemmon, PhD

About WorkLife Xcel

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