I shouldn’t have been surprised that Meryl Runion, who has a series of books on “Power Phrases” and a website called speakstrong.com would pierce the red dot in the center of the target. She did, as I was interviewing her this past week on the topic of ASSERTIVENESS. (The show and any of twenty-five other episodes of the Everyday Leadership Radio are now available with one-click at my website danmulhern.com.)
Meryl said: “we (do) need to manage our managers, even more than they need to manage us.” Do you agree? And agree from both sides of the equation? Do you agree with respect to your manager – should you manage her or him? And do you agree with respect to those whom you manage – should they manage you? I replayed Meryl’s line later in the show, and my guest Dorothy Leeds said, “managers don’t want to hear that.” I pushed back with Dorothy and today perhaps with you, because Meryl’s paradigm shift makes too much sense to let anything stand in the way.*
Let me offer an example from my experience. My mind gravitates toward possibility and the big picture. I’m also persuasive, so I can get people to follow me on missions that seem awesome but may be incredibly hard to execute and come with great opportunity costs in terms of the time and energy they will drain from other worthy projects. Now I am probably in the bottom quartile of the population when it comes to my natural skills to estimate how long things take, how much resource they demand, how much resistance they’ll evoke, and the sequential execution needs. It took me twenty years in management to realize that I often had people working “for” me, like my former assistant Tara Adams, who were a thousand time smarter when it came to what I’d call “the intelligence of the practical.” So I learned to let Tara manage me in regular two-week meetings and then in between them. I set priorities, but she asked the realistic questions that tempered my enthusiasm, pointed to the opportunity costs, and generally multiplied my abilities to execute.
Aspects of this situation are unique to my peculiar abilities and disabilities. What’s not unique is that people on our teams have skills we don’t and they see things we can’t. They see their own work. They are often closer to the problem, the client, the customer, and other people who can make a difference. We should push them to manage us. Ask them questions like, “How can I help you succeed? What do you need from me? Is there one thing I can offer that will help you to do your job better?” We have to take one giant step further. For in years in passive classrooms and authoritarian households and typical workplaces, many workers have been steeped like soggy tea bags in the culture of dependence. They wait, they listen. So we have to proactively give more than permission, but the expectation, that they should see it as their job to manage us to get results.
On the other side of the equation, we don’t have to wait for permission to be assertive and – surreptitiously, if necessary – manage our managers. We can begin by asking ourselves: “What could my boss do differently to get more out of me?” It might be: give me more clarity about goals; or, share more information that affects my job; or, help me understand, “of everything you want me to do, what’s most important to you?” There’s some great advice on my show on how to assert yourself in these ways, how to manage your manager to get what you need. But it all begins with the notion that you – not your boss – are responsible for working (with) him or her to get what you need to succeed. If this makes you uncomfortable as a boss, please push back with a comment and engage in the discussion this week to
Lead with your best self,
* In fairness to Dorothy, she explained that it wasn’t the concept of managing the manager that she thought would be offensive to managers, but only the language or sound of managing your boss. Indeed, she has a brilliant approach to using questions that can level the ground with a higher-up so that the worker has genuine power in the situation.