My corporate career, excluding my VA experience, spans some 25 plus years. I’ve had government office bosses, travel industry bosses, airline bosses, coachline bosses, hotel bosses, engineering bosses, manufacturing bosses, sales and marketing bosses, human resources bosses, small office bosses, large state and country wide business bosses, editing bosses, medical bosses, magazine bosses and probably some others I can’t remember.
I’ve experienced a wide range of personalities wearing the Boss hat, and I’ve come to this conclusion: If your Boss hates you, you’re in trouble. If your Boss doesn’t understand you, you won’t fare much better. Doesn’t matter that you’re a Sister Theresa clone, if your Boss doesn’t like you, don’t expect any favors.
What you have to remember is bosses are human, and as with all other humans on the planet, there are going to be those that you cannot get along with no matter how hard you try. Some people are like that. They are very hard to please. You can disregard the fact that they are highly regarded by upper management and have excellent experience and qualifications because you’ll find that despite that, they’ve never had any specific “people skill” training. They have absolutely NO idea how to be a “Boss”. Simple as that. And is that your fault? No. But you do have to live with it. It might not be your fault, but it can be your problem.
The truth is the Boss holds your future prospects in his hands. He can make or break you. He can make your work life a joyous experience, motivating you to dizzy heights, or he can make each day “resignation day”. It all depends on his people skills and what training, if any, he has had in dealing with staff. If you doubt that is significant in this day and age, consider this: you can miss out on advancing up that corporate career ladder if your Boss has it in for you. Bad Boss-employee relationships are one of the main reasons for high staff turnover.
Your Boss isn’t only your supervisor – the head honcho. He is supposed to be that person best equipped to assist you and the entire department to achieve set goals. One would expect he has some kind of understanding about the job you do. Chances are, he hasn’t a clue. However, he should know what the company’s goals are and where his department fits into the scheme of things. He should also know what the company looks for in its executives.
He should know how your future career aspirations fit into this overall picture – and even if you have a future there. Cultivate a healthy relationship and this same boss can even help you up that corporate ladder. A right word in the right ear can make all the difference. You know what they say… it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. As corny as that sounds, sadly, it’s often the truth.
Don’t despair – this is not a one way street. Yes, you do need your Boss on your side, but believe it or not, he needs you in his court, too. How can he accomplish his departmental goals without your cooperation? You can make him look good or bad. Mind you, if you make him look bad, perhaps you shouldn’t even be worrying about how to get along with him. Perhaps you should be looking for a new job!
But let’s assume you would like to establish a healthy working relationship with your Boss. How do you go about it when he is the Ogre to beat all Ogres? The key is in communicating with him.
Study him. Know him. Understand his priorities and what is expected of him. When you know that, think about how you can help him achieve that. You want to make him look good, because by making him look good, you make the department, of which you are a member, also look good. You want to look good, right?
Know his work style. If his instructions have confused you, ask for clarification. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, and if he roars, count to ten and accept his roars with gracious dignity. (Honestly, if he is the bear you believe he is, he will be found out by management in the end, and his days with the company, or at least in your department, may well be numbered. You can outlast him!)
Not all bosses are so scary, and let’s just assume your Boss is merely inexperienced. So let’s have some compassion and persevere here. If he believes you are sincere in your work efforts, he may be more inclined to help you and try to understand your own aspirations. You might not be able to expect “friend” status, but if he understands you and accepts you, you’re half way there!
So, get to know your Boss’ priorities and goals. No, go further than that. Anticipate his needs before he asks. Impress him. Do your job well and help him look good doing his job well. Will he appreciate this? You betcha!
Of course, there are also the personality clashes which are a bit harder to handle, so what can you do? Well, for starters, what is his personality type? Is he informal or conservative? Does he use an open door policy or does he prefer you make an appointment to speak to him? Do you have to call him Mr, or does he prefer you use his first name? What little idiosyncracies does he display that you can use to your advantage? Does he appreciate someone sharing a joke with him? Does he prefer a deadly silent department where a pin dropping sounds like a bomb explosion? Know your Boss!
Always show respect. Yes, even if he doesn’t deserve it in your eyes. As the Boss, he automatically has the upper hand. Try to eliminate habits and behaviours that you know rile him. Show initiative and interest. Don’t wait to be told to do something you know needs doing. Respect your boss’ time. And most of all, never bad-mouth your boss to others. Regardless of how trustworthy you believe the gossip recipient to be, badmouthing always gets back via the notorious office grapevine.
Remember, your boss is only human, like you. He will have his off days, like you. He will make mistakes, like you. And as with all professionals, some Bosses are “naturals” and others struggle because it’s not their strong point. And you never know… maybe his boss is a pain in the neck to him! Maybe upper management are hard to get along with and make his life miserable.
I’ve emphasized the need to get along with your boss, but it is important that you do not become a “yes” man. Yes men are phoney and very obvious, and nobody, not even an ogre boss respects such a person. So forget any false flattery if you want to be respected and taken seriously.
Also, don’t try to be “buddies” with your Boss. This may well make him feel awkward and uncomfortable. He may feel his position is being compromised or that you will no longer respect him or that you will expect special treatment. Besides, this can also backfire on you. If this Boss likes having you around and comes to rely on you too much, do you think he is going to be keen to see you promoted out of his department where he will have to manage without you?
Keep your nose clean, do as is expected of you and a little bit more, don’t abuse sick days, be respectful, cooperative and trustworthy, and prove you are a valuable team player. Okay, maybe you are already all of these things and you are working for a true bear whose management style needs a major overhaul. Maybe despite your best efforts, your head Bear growls at you and makes your life miserable. If you have done all you can do to get along with him and do your job you can now do one of two things.
You can approach the H.R. department and ask for a departmental divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. Or you can decide how important working in that particular company is to your future goals, because if it doesn’t look like your Boss is moving on anywhere soon, you might have to consider doing so yourself. Maybe you have to look for a new job either in a new company or a new department.
And look on the bright side… such an experience will be invaluable one day when you become a Boss. You’re ahead already because even if you aren’t sure what you should be doing, at the very least, you will know what NOT to do!
By Brent Filson