Helping Your Boss Get Better


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An item in Sales & Marketing Management Magazine really caught my eye one day, not so much for what it actually said but for what it COULD have said. In a report on reader responses to a survey about the performances of their bosses and their bosses’ skill levels, the magazine stated: “While respondents gave their managers high ratings in the areas of selling and personal skills, they gave poor marks for their management skills. More than 33% rated their managers at less than 50 (on a scale of 100) in terms of capability. "

Our first reaction to such a commentary might be, “Gee whiz, what a mess! Those respondents have it rough. Why doesn’t somebody whip these ill-gotten, nudnik managers into shape?” But a more effective reaction to such distressing news might more likely be found by activating a less-conventional approach.

While true that these respondents’ companies ought to be packing their managers away to a good old-fashioned management-skills training program, one thing is nonetheless for certain: no matter how much we advocate such actions here, most companies still will not do so. Never have, never will. Instead, most managers will be left to struggle along, alone.

It unfortunately has always seemed to be the prevailing practice at too many companies to promote an individual to management because she/he has been sensational at something else—high-scoring sales rep, great-with-people HR practitioner, financial whiz kid. On becoming a manager, however, it’s assumed that the title and increased salary was all the higher-ups needed to do. You’ve got the job, goes the message, now go take charge and just do it. Poof! You’re a manager… now you’re different.

Is this how it happened to YOUR manager/boss, or even to you? If so, where does that leave you both? Wallowing in chads of inexperience and skills deficiencies, I’ll wager.

I suggest not taking this at face value. Time to set things right! Though a sad reality has brought you to this fate, you’re by no means doomed to it. Though everyone else may be suffering, how about you taking some action? Only YOU can help your boss get his or her job done. And yes, I know, I know: We’ve been conditioned to think of ourselves as “lower” than our bosses and certainly not responsible for helping them figure out how to do their jobs. Why should we, after all? Aren’t they’re getting paid more than we are to know what to do.

The hard reality though is this: If we do NOT help our bosses, we lose too. In fact, everybody goes down with the ship, together… there will be no survivors.

So ask yourself these questions: What advice could you offer your manager? Are there resources you could locate that would help current and future projects succeed? How could teamwork in your department run smoother, objectives become sharper, paperwork and busywork decrease?

Next step two: How could you (carefully, courteously, subtly) communicate what it is that you do so as to augment your boss’s skill gaps? Can you help him learns from your efforts, absorb insights, acquire the skill of performing such tasks himself?

The trick here is to seek out ways to eradicate that old devil “hierarchy snobbery, ” ringing constantly in your head (and mine). Instead, get on with the business of making everyone around you- boss and colleague- look stellar. For you personally, this sort of behavior will develop your own management skills and likely display you as an ace performer, propelling your own climb up the management staircase. When you get there, as a bonus, you may not be in dire need of similar help or skills catch-up, as scads of others before you have needed. By reaching out to help your boss, you’ll be training yourself.

Ken Lizotte CMC is Chief Imaginative Officer (CIO) of emerson consulting group inc. (Concord, MA), which transforms consultants, law firms, executives and companies into “thoughtleaders. ” This article is an excerpt from his newest book “Beyond Reason: Questioning Assumptions of Everyday Life".

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