The Importance of Managing Your Boss

By Carl Robinson, Ph.D. copyright 2007

It’s obvious that successful leaders know how to manage others. But woe to thee who doesn’t learn how to manage one’s boss (or board/investors in the case of CEOs).

Frank was a successful SVP of Marketing for a fast growing $300 million/year revenue high tech company. His CEO recently hired a COO to streamline and optimize the operations side of the business while freeing up the CEO’s time to focus on some potential acquisitions. Lisa, the CEO, was an idea person, who processed information best through conversation and presentations. Frank was a master at both. However, Tom, the new COO learned through reading and digesting data. Frank hated writing reports and prepared very brief high-level summaries with the idea that he would get a chance to elaborate one-on-one or in a more detailed presentation with the COO. The COO read Frank’s reports and concluded, inaccurately, that Frank was a fluff case – no real substance. Frank never got a real chance to overcome Tom’s inaccurate conclusion because Frank’s boss didn’t alter how he processed information to accommodate Frank’s communication style. Frank kept waiting for Tom to think and act like Lisa. As a result, he became more and more marginalized and ineffective.

Like it or not, if you don’t know what makes your boss tick, and if you don’t figure out how to influence him/her or them (in case you have multiple bosses), you’re less likely to be successful no matter how brilliant you are or how stellar your track record has been.

I recently told a sales and marketing executive coaching client of mine that if he wanted to more effectively influence his boss he needed to apply the same level of forethought and preparation for his discussions with his CEO as he does when he meets with a sales prospect. He had been lulled by his CEO’s casual interpersonal style. He thought because his conversations with the CEO felt like a fun tennis match – hitting volleys back and forth with occasional lobs and hard ground strokes - that they were communicating well. His CEO, a gregarious visionary who enjoyed stimulating conversations, which helped him finesse relationships with investors, was nevertheless a stickler for well run, efficient organizations, and wanted his executives to get to the point quickly. The sales executive didn’t do his homework well with his own boss and as a result, his boss would walk away thinking, great conversation but where’s the beef?

With a new mindset, my client was able to easily make the necessary adjustments to his interactions with his boss. He came better prepared to every meeting with his boss and dialed back his old chum attitude. He made his boss his client. As Marshall Goldsmith, the author of the best selling What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, recently said in a telephone conversation I had with him, “Executives are always on stage. They have to approach any interaction with others with the attitude – ‘It’s show time’.” You are on stage and you need to be thinking about your audience and how they perceive you.

The bottom line is that if you want to be effective in interacting with your boss you have to be proactive. You need to step outside yourself and ask, "What drives my boss? How does she think? What is her style of processing information?" Then, adapt your style to fit your audience. Remember the effectiveness of any communication is not measured by how clear or effective you think you were but in how well the other person understood you and, more importantly, did they change their behavior as a result.