How to Boss the Boss

So the boss is a pain, doesn’t do what you need, doesn’t do what they say they will do and doesn’t listen in the first place. You are frustrated, demotivated, it is impacting your team AND that job at ‘Our Biggest Competitor Ltd’ looks more and more enticing.

So do you jump, or do you don your superhero pants and give it one last shot? 

Here are some things to mull… 

Bosses are not superhero’s 

Nope it’s true. Bosses have worries, fears, families, challenges, strengths, weaknesses gaps in skills and gaps in knowledge. just like the rest of us. Many of us don’t realise how much our bosses depend on us, they need our ‘cooperation, reliability and honesty’. Not only that but we depend on our bosses for resources, links, support and so on (Gabarro,2007). 

If we can recognise this mutual dependency then we are more likely to invest time in exploring what is underneath our bosses behaviour. What is worrying them most? What would help them most? What are we doing that is less helpful? Or what could we do that would be more helpful? 

Remember, as bosses are not superhero’s they can be hurt or upset by our behaviour and when that happens – well work it out. 

Bosses are not the enemy 

If this is how you see your boss then the chances are you will see everything your boss does as wrong and unhelpful. Your paradigm of the evil boss will influence your perception of their actions. In other words you will sabotage your relationships without realising it. 

So consider what it is that is really winding you up. Is it your differences such as detail versus big picture approach, concise versus wordy, constrained versus effusive and so on.  Are you giving your boss the information they need in a way that they can easily take it in, or are you presenting it in the way you like it to be presented. 

Try adjusting your delivery style to match theirs and see what happens to your rapport. 

Use the right influencing tools 

A study done by Yuki and Bruce (2002) looked at the most effective ways to influence others including superiors. They looked at the effectiveness of using 9 different tactics; rational persuasion, inspirational appeal, consultation, ingratiation, exchange of favours, personal appeal, forming coalitions, establishing legitimacy and straight forward pressure (i.e. threats). 

They discovered that the most effective tactics were rational persuasion, inspirational appeal and consultation, with rational persuasion being the tactic most frequently used for persuading upwards. They revealed the least effective tactics are using pressure, coalition and legitimising. 

So, if you see your boss as the enemy and therefore resort to veiled threats, getting others to ‘gang up with you’ or using process to force your way through, you are likely to fail! Worse still, your relationship with your boss will suffer. 

Build rapport before the sh** to hits the fan 

In order to be able to influence your boss you need to have credibility in the first place. You can’t suddenly magic it up when you need it. This means you have to work at putting a relationship in place which will lead to your boss trusting your information and suggestions when you really, really, need them to. 

To get to this, you need to have a track record of success, be consistent in your achievements as well as having good ‘social networks and connections’ across the organisation (Bourne, 2011). 

If you want to build your rapport and credibility with your boss, then you also need to demonstrate that you understand the challenges, drivers and demands inherent in operating at their level. Identify who influences and impacts on your boss and establish good rapport with them too. Also bear in mind that you should never make your boss look bad, especially with these individuals. 

Finally, don’t destroy your credibility by making commitments you cannot keep. Nor should you under-promise just to make yourself look good when you easily exceed what was expected (especially if it is clear that this is what you are doing). 

Their focus may be different  

Did you know that those higher up the organisation are more likely to pay attention to what those further down the organisation deliver, rather than seek to build intimate relationships with them, nor are they likely to seek to understand their intentions (Cislak, 2013). In contrast, for those further down the  hierarchy, developing  a good relationship with their boss is likely to be important as the power balance lies with the boss. 

Does this focus matter? Well Cislak points out that if you talk with a peer about your holiday, it is perceived as being friendly, but if the same conversation is observed by your boss, it may be perceived as a lack of focus on your work. 

This goes back to the previous points; if you have built a good rapport with your boss and have credibility, then they are less likely to perceive friendly banter as work avoidance. 

So the trick to bossing the boss is to play the long game. Build your credibility, grow the relationship, use influencing approaches wisely and keep in mind where their focus is likely to be.  

Additional Reading.... 

Bourne, L., (2011), Advising upwards: managing the perceptions and expectations of senior management stakeholders, Management Decision, Vol. 49 Iss: 6, pp.1001 - 1023 

Cislak, A., (2013), Effects of Power on Social Perception; All Your Boss Can See is Agency. Social Psychology 2013; Vol. 44(2):138–146 

Gabarro, J. J., and Kotter, J.P.,  Managing your Boss; Managing Up, 2nd Edition. Harvard Business Review 85, no. 5 (May 2007). 

Yuki, G. and Bruce, T.J., (1992), Consequences of influence tactics used with subordinates, peers, and the boss. Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol 77(4), Aug, 1992. pp. 525-535.