Thursday, October 15, 2009

Managing Up

Unless you are sitting atop the corporate hierarchy, your career future depends in large part on how well you manage your boss.

You already know that leadership is not about imposing your will on others and that followership is not about sycophantic obedience. Still and all, learning how to function effectively when you are at the lower end of a power imbalance is a significant challenge.

I have discussed this topic before (link here)and I am returning to it because John Baldoni has just published a book about it. He has also written two recent articles addressing the topic. Links here and here.

If you want to advance your career you will need to persuade your boss to implement your ideas, to recognize your talent, and to give you credit. So, it's really about your ability to persuade.

First, you must earn the right to present your own ideas. You do that, as Baldoni suggests, by demonstrating competence in whatever tasks fall under your job description. You should do more than is asked of you and you should spend more time on the job than is required.

It takes time to earn enough the required credit. If you arrived yesterday, no one is going to take your reorganization plan very seriously, and you should not be offering one. If it's your third day on the job as a marketing trainee you should not be criticizing the plan that the department spent six months working up.

These points may sound obvious. They require that you rein in your ego. Need I say more.

Second, if you want your boss to respect your ideas, begin by respecting his. If you want to set policy begin by showing how well you can work to implement a policy set by your boss.

As the old saying goes: do unto others as you would have others do unto you. One of the best ways to produce a certain behavior in someone else is to demonstrate the same behavior toward him.

If you are constantly contradicting or finding fault with what your boss presents, he will probably not show much more solicitude when you present your own solutions. If you make your ego the issue, your boss will be obliged to reject your ideas, no matter how good they are, in order to maintain his own position.

Nor should you be excessively obsequious. If you become identified as a cheerleader for everything your boss presents, you will be showing that you have no ideas of your own. No one respects a sycophant.

Third, identify with the company not yourself. Your boss most likely sees his decisions in terms of the greater good of the company. Your ideas need to be presented as consonant with company policy and with your boss's direction. As Baldoni puts it, if your boss is concerned with cost cutting, present your idea as a new way to cut costs. You do not want to be in the position of seeming to contradict his policy.

Fourth, express your ideas clearly and concisely. They must be immediately intelligible and engaging. In the movie business, as I have mentioned, this is called "high concept." It means that you should present your proposal in a single sentence that involves the problem, an action, and a resolution.

Baldoni suggests that you paint a picture and use visual aids. If you are thinking of "high concept" as it is applied in film production, obviously the concept must be easily visualized.

A while back I offered Ernest Hemingway's response to the challenge of telling a story in six words. It was: For sale: baby shoes, never worn.

I mention it now to show that it is extremely difficult to express a full story in a single sentence.

Baldoni also adds that if you want to improve the way the factory floor is organized, take your boss on a tour of the factory floor, showing the problems you have found and the solutions you want to implement.

As always, you are not selling yourself; you are not even selling your idea. You are showing yourself to be a loyal and reliable member of the team who wants nothing more than to contribute to the company's success.

No comments: