Friday, April 16, 2010

Coaching Lessons: Really Great Advice

I am always on the lookout for great advice. And not just for myself.

From my experience counseling and coaching people, I have learned that often the difference between success and failure lies in a piece of great advice... offered at the right time to the right person.

Traditionally, therapy has never been in the business of giving advice. If you are looking for that one piece of advice that is going to help you to reorient your efforts more constructively, you should not bother with the musings of the grand poobahs of the therapy culture.

Even at their best, their province is the mind, not reality. Since they have never really wanted their work to be judged by whether or not it made a real difference in someone's life, they tend to offer empty nostrums.

I have found much better advice in the columns of Miss Manners, in the ethical principles of Aristotle, and in the work of a management consultant like Peter Drucker.

Management consultants are like coaches; they are in the business of giving advice. Their work is subject to a rigorous reality check. Consultants offer practical advice, advice you can use, apply, and test. Either it will work for you, or it will not.

For these reasons I was not surprised to come across a piece of great advice in a column by Michael Schrage. He is not a mental health professional, but is a research fellow at MIT's Sloan Center for Digital Business.

The title of his article says it all: "Making Your Boss Look Good (Without Becoming a Sycophant.) Link here.

If you are wondering: in whose eyes do you want your boss to look good... Schrage answers: in the eyes of his boss.
He recommends that you advance your career by advancing the career of your boss... which is not quite the same thing as the old Freudian saw which says that you are naturally drawn to try to replace your boss.

While Schrage focuses on office politics and career advancement, the same principle applies well to other areas of life. Good advice tends to have a broad application.

How can you make your boss look good? The easiest way, which Schrage seems to take for granted, since he does not mention it, is to do a good job. Be the employee your boss thought he was hiring.

If you do a bad job, if you distract your colleagues and make it difficult for them to do their jobs, if you act as though your job is beneath your skill level, then clearly, the person who hired you is not going to look good.

If you work hard, with good focus, and are attuned to the good of the group, then your boss will look good and his career will continue moving forward. Hopefully, you will move forward with him.

You should make it your business to learn all you can about your boss's boss. That is Schrage's key point. As he explains, when your boss's boss gives a talk somewhere, you should do as one young analyst did. You should look around the internet for comments about it. If you find some flattering appraisals on Twitter, you pass them along to your boss. He can then pass them on to his boss and look good in his boss's eyes.

Of course, this does not involve constantly flattering your boss by telling him that he is a genius. Gestures that appear to be self-serving provoke suspicion, especially when they are designed to cover up the fact that you are not doing your job.

The same principle can be applied to a marriage. How many couples have had problems when they are invited to the inevitable dinner with boss and boss' s spouse. It should be clear that when you go to such a dinner with your spouse, your role is to make your spouse look good in his or her boss's eyes. Keep in mind that everything you do at such a dinner will reflect on your spouse.

It is not the time to assert yourself, to be your ebullient self, or to talk about your own career.

Such events happen often enough in the life of a couple. People who do not handle them correctly rarely succeed in their relationships. When you become part of a couple, one of your first thoughts should be that from then on the way you behave will reflect on someone else beyond your self. If you imagine that your personal autonomy and independence must trump your concern for how you are making the other person look... well then, your relationship will quickly be on life support.

1 comment:

RileyD, nwJ said...

"Never forget, part of your job is to make your boss look good", Claude Driver (my father - deceased).

Did not understand it as wisdom when he first said it ('60's), but never forgot it and over the years it became clearer and clearer. Nice to see his wisdom has made it into your column.