I had coffee last week with a woman who is General Counsel for a US based consultancy. She reminisced about her first job 20-some years ago, working with a senior partner in a law firm who was a notorious SOB. His reputation was to intimidate and grind down those who were supposed to help him. I’ll let her continue:
“I would see these young associates–I was one of them–come out of his office in tears all the time, and think ‘Am I nuts? How the hell am I going to work a bully?’ But actually we ended up getting along wonderfully, one of the best bosses I ever had.”
“Great to hear. You skipped a few steps in your story.. How did you do it?”
“At the start, everyone came up to me and asked how could I possibly work for him. And when I’d sit in his office, he’d turn to me and say ‘I know everyone says I’m difficult, and I am. But I really don’t mean to be, it’s not intentional.’
“Got it, but what did you do to make peace?”
“Two things. First, I gave him more information than he needed. I figured if he was going to ride me, I’d overload him. So if there was a brief or report or research, I’d do the work but give him more info than he could possibly read all of it. It was overkill, I suppose, but if he wanted the information, I was going to give him more than he could handle and show I was up for it. And the work was quality effort.”
“Over time–actually not that long, a few months–he started to say, ‘Alright, no need to give me all of that, I’m too busy, you know what you’re doing.’ And that, of course, was my ‘aha’ moment, which meant he’d started to trust me and trust my work. Not that he didn’t challenge me, but saw my work output, liked most of what he saw, and didn’t have to chase me. And once I had his trust, we were a team. I covered him and he covered me.
“The second thing I remember is that I told him at the beginning that I had a short fuse. I knew he did, but so did I. I told him nicely that I could anger quickly, and between the two of us to not go down that path. I’m not sure how much of any effect that had, but I remember that–it was not easy saying that to a new boss, but I said it evenly and professionally. I figured I needed to let him know. Open, candid, but little emotion in my talks with him. I had to think about it, as it did not all come naturally, but knew the outcome to a lot of emotional talk with him. He trusted me, and for a young associate to be able to have worked so closely with him, I learned far more than I could have otherwise.
“So now, fast-forwarding a couple of decades, I have some of the young people come into my office and complain their boss doesn’t understand them, doesn’t acknowledge their work, ignores them, on and on. They don’t get it–yet. They’re unsure how to give the boss what he or she wants, and enough of it until the boss knows what you’re doing. Some of these new hires think it’s all about them, and it never is. Don’t be scared of the boss, understand how to communicate and deliver–the way the boss wants it communicated. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is so true.”
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It is, and bears repeating:[framed_box]Know what the boss wants, and how to present it the way THEY want it, not the way you want it. If you over-deliver no one will scream–but they certainly will if you under-deliver.
Know what the boss wants, how they want it communicated. Know how to support them to do their job, never by asking them to solve your problems, regardless of whether they tell you to come in and talk anytime. Respect the title. You don’t have to like it, but you have to respect it..
The boss-subordinate relationship is not even. Never has been, never will be. The boss will gladly and consistently help, but only after you’ve proven yourself–repeatedly and reliably–not a minute before.[/framed_box]
Think about it. Or speak to my General Counsel friend..
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