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Managing your boss

I’m here in Japan in a program that Columbia runs in partnership with the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC).  One of the topics we’re working on has to do with managing your boss – a perennial favorite.  Here is the gist of what we covered (with credit to my colleague, Bill Klepper):

The essence of the process is to follow these steps:

#1:  Get some insight into your own preferences and your bosses’ preferences.  Here at Columbia, we use diagnostic instruments that can give you terrific insights into your learning and social preferences, and ways to understand the same for your boss.  An awful lot of boss/subordinate conflict occurs because of different preferences.  For example, if your boss is an activist type who likes action, conversation, and excitement, giving that person a thick binder full of details will be a turn-off.  Same in reverse.  If your boss is a number-details kind of person, talking to them about big picture strategic ideas when you haven’t thought through the story is problematic.  So the first challenge is to get a sense of the raw material that you are working with in terms of personalities and preferences.

#2:  Understand your bosses’ goals and needs.  It’s really vital to try to get a sense of the pressures and priorities that your boss is facing.  What’s expected of him/her? What are the short term and long term goals? How will your boss be evaluated?

#3:  With that as background, you then need to clarify mutual expectations.  What does your boss expect of you (try to get him or her to be specific).  What should you and do you expect of your boss?  This might involve issues such as performance reviews, access, feedback, and so on.  Some people find it helpful to actually put these expectations in writing in a memo of understanding. 

#4:  Having come to an agreement, keep your promises.  Nobody likes to work with someone who is unreliable.  That much being said, also try to avoid the temptation to make unrealistic commitments.  These can easily lead to relationship disaster when things go wrong later on, particularly if you could have anticipated the issues.

#5:  Manage the tension between loyalty and integrity.  Do try to help you boss succeed, but don’t cave in on your fundamental values.  And of course, if there is any hint of something unethical or illegal, run, do not walk, out of that situation.

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