What Does Your Boss Want From You?

What Does Your Boss Want From You?

In this blog, I am going to do something different. For today’s post, I am joined by Steve Arneson, a friend and former client. Steve is a talent management , leadership consultant and executive coach having worked at Pepsi, Time Warner and Capital One. He is the author of several books, including his most recent, What Your Boss Really Wants From You (Berrett-Koehler, 2014).

We struck up a conversation recently about the high levels of disengagement in the workforce and how much of that hinges on the poor relationship between boss and his or her team. We both also spend lots of time in coaching executives dealing with a ‘boss issue’. Here is part of our conversation and some insight into his new book.

Bob: Tell us a little about why you wrote the book.

Steve: Your relationship with your boss matters – a lot. And I see a lot of people ‘suffering’ in a bad relationship. It’s the most critical factor in your engagement and enjoyment of the job. If you have a great boss, he’s motivating you to work hard, develop your skills, and thrive in the role. However, if you have a bad boss, he’s likely the cause of your frustration, disengagement and stress, and he probably isn’t getting the best out of you.

Bob: Steve, what are the issues you deal with between the boss and subordinate?

Steve: There are many but let me just hit a couple of the most common ones. Between the boss and his or her subordinate two of the most common are having the courage to have the tough conversations or “move on” from a direct report who isn’t pulling his/her weight or 2) dealing with a high performer who is becoming “uncoachable” or isn’t staying aligned with your mission/values. The most common issues going the other way—direct report to the boss– are working for a boss who doesn’t care about you as an individual – no feedback, coaching, or development 2) working for a boss who lacks integrity – one you can’t trust or count on.

Bob: What do you tell people to do? Of, if they can’t have you, what will the book help them with?

Steve:  You have to be the catalyst for improving this relationship; that’s why I wrote What Your Boss Really Wants From You. You don’t have to be a victim – you can proactively change your attitude and behaviors. Start by studying your boss to really understand his motives. I have provided 10 questions that will help you ‘study your boss’ and give you the insight you need to figure out where your boss is coming from. The resulting insights will help you explain his or her work style, behaviors and motives. Next, take an honest look at how she sees you, and be prepared to incorporate that view into your plans for change; for this step, have created five questions that will help you gain this perspective. Then, armed with these reflections, rewrite your story and adjust your attitude. Try new behaviors, and stop destructive ones. The point is to figure out what your boss really wants from you, and try harder to make it all work. You can do this; you can change your relationship with your boss. But you have to make it happen. You want the boss to change, but you shouldn’t sit around waiting for that miracle. He’s or she’s not going to change or adapt to your style; you need to adjust to his or hers. You must look at this relationship differently, and take responsibility for improving it. You can make a more enjoyable work experience for yourself, but you have to put in the work. If you follow this simple process, you can a build a better relationship with your boss.

Bob: Do you have an example or two—I know there are many in the book—on where the process was followed and what the outcomes was?

Steve: Here are two. I’ve worked with clients who, once they’ve studied their boss and gained new insights, developed the courage to approach the boss and really put their misalignment “on the table” and talk it out. Many clients have told me the insights they gained caused them to change their “boss story” and look at the relationship more objectively, which brought them to the table to work out their issues. Heretofore, they wouldn’t have even thought to approach the boss, because they were bitter and frustrated.

Another common example: based on the insights, people pick out very specific boss interaction behaviors to stop, start or dial up or down. These might include 1) debating unconstructively with the boss in staff meetings (stop); 2) figuring out how to best approach the boss (dial up or down); 3) creating a new communications process that feeds the boss’s appetite for information (start).


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