For most of us, there are three major stakeholders when it comes to our careers: customers, bosses/leaders, team members. The first and third categories have an indirect impact, and some professionals do not even have to deal with them. But, nobody can escape the boss. If I don’t know how to manage my boss, then how can I expect to progress my career?
“Manage My Boss” sounds like a manipulative statement, at first. But, don’t we all manage people and situations. Then why not “manage” the boss? Years ago, I was approached by a journalist for an article that she was writing about managing bosses. The PR agency was a bit sceptical if I should participate in the story but I disagreed. Why is this a taboo question in corporates? Why is this not a training program conducted for every employee?
Managing one’s bosses or leaders has multiple dimensions, but if there is one which has disproportionate impact, it is your ability to communicate. Your ability to persuade your boss about yourself. If you cannot convince your boss about your point of view, your ideas, your capabilities… then your career will stall. Your career is not just about you, it is about what your boss knows and thinks about you.
Instead of realising this, most folks kick in a defence mechanism of blaming the “other”.
My boss does not know how to value me.
My boss does not like me, that’s why I don’t get good opportunities.
The other fellows suck up to the boss. I am not like that, so I get left behind.
Those fellows are smooth talking, using fancy words and slides. I did all the hard work.
Stop making excuses!
Obviously there are some bad bosses… the normal curve shows up everywhere… but, I have seen that for the most part, and over time, fairness does hold up. You might not get promoted this year but if you are capable it will happen. If you are seeing others get ahead all the time, then maybe it is time for an inward look about your readiness to progress your career.
However, one mistake that many leaders do, and Indians, in particular, is that they don’t give clear and honest feedback to their team members. Almost, like a parent, they try to protect them from the bad news. How many times has a boss said after an appraisal discussion that you are not ready for the next level and you need to work on these three things to make it there? It is always couched in vague, positive strokes and also blaming the other (next level boss, HR, lack of opportunities, etc.).
Today, stop making excuses. Nobody is responsible for your career progress other than you. Only you.
And the most important thing that you can do is to build the ability to showcase yourself to those who matter. Of course, the underlying assumption is that you have something to showcase and you are separately working on expanding your “value proposition”.
How to Engage Your Boss
For your career to progress, you have to demonstrate the potential to do new things, do more than what your current role demands. The best opportunity to showcase this is when you are given a project or assigned to participate in a cross-functional team or when you are asked to propose new ideas for the business.
I have sat through hundreds of such project presentations, in my former corporate role and in my teaching avatar. 90% of the presentations have left me frustrated. Because I could see that there was an underlying capability but it was hidden under layers of poor communication and laziness.
Poor communication is when I have to make tremendous effort to understand what you want to say. It’s like I have to discover the diamond that may be hidden in all the rocks that are being thrown at me.
Laziness is when I can see that you have not made any effort to prepare for this presentation. It looks like you didn’t care enough about this project to go the extra mile. Then, why should I believe that you will cope when you are moved to the next, unknown role.
Three Things that I Focus On
As the recipient of a presentation, I have a simple framework that I use to evaluate the presenter. I use it all the time, and also share it with other leaders who are required to review business cases or project submissions.
What are the three things that your presentations must focus on? As you will realise, I am not getting into the actual content of your project. My assumption is that you have something worth showing. This is about showcasing it.
1. Why should I care?
Within a minute, I want to know if the rest of the presentation is worth listening to. You have a few seconds to convince me to part with my attention. If you fail here, recovery later is very tough. Not impossible, but you have a hill to climb now.
Different people care about different things. It is for you to know and anticipate that. It’s like putting your finger on the pulse of that person. The same topic can be pitched in various ways to suit your boss or leader who’s evaluating you.
…a plan to add new data analytics product features…
…how we can improve our sales velocity by 24%…
…how we can increase EBITDA margin by 2% this year…
All these can be the attributes or results of your project… which one will you lead with? Not what you care about but what your audience cares more about.
2. Lay out the Buffet
Have you ever wondered why a buffet is laid out in a certain manner? Why not just mix up all the serving dishes on a table and let people choose what they want to do?
While some may love the complexity and choice, most would abhor it. We are all simple people. We enjoy familiarity, we prefer structures and lists. Bosses are busy people. They want someone else to make it easy for them.
Lay out your presentation for the audience, in a familiar and simple manner. Give them an opening, a middle and an end, like a story or meal does. Use visual cues of what is being served and a reminder of where they are in the sequence.
When you think of the presentation in a structured manner, it provides you tremendous clarity. You can build your flow and not be dependent on your slides.
3. Be an Energy Multiplier
Have you ever seen a bored storyteller? That’s what most presentations remind me of. A comic who cannot laugh at her/his own jokes.
Your boss may have five such presentations to listen to. You have one to deliver. Guess in which direction the energy has to flow! Your enthusiasm indicates your readiness and interest to do more, to take on newer challenges.
The presenter’s energy is visible to us. Even if you have your video shut in a virtual meeting. We can hear it in your voice. We know it from your choice of words. And if you are visible, your energy is seen from the moment you enter the meeting room.
You cannot hide it, nor can you fake it.
To manage my boss is not manipulation. It is to respect the person for who she/he is and project your role in the organisation in a fair manner. The most successful leaders know how to manage their bosses.
Stop complaining and start persuading your boss about you.