“My job would be great, except for my boss.” “My boss is a &*#$%.” “My job was great, but then my boss took a new role and the atmosphere tanked.”
As the president of an organization that helps people find joy and effectiveness at work, we hear these types of sentiments all the time. These complaints reveal one of the givens of the universe, a truth none of us can hide from. And this truth also holds the key to much greater satisfaction and productivity at work because it reveals a key in the hidden software that you operate at work: company culture.
Here’s the big idea:
The people in power have an oversized impact on your wellbeing and effectiveness at work.
For most of us the “people in our power” is our boss. For some of us, that’s one person, for others, in more complex matrix organizations, it may be several different higher-ups.
Over thirty-five years of working, I’ve seen this issue from both sides. For ten of those years, I’ve worked under the leadership of others. For twenty-five of those years, I’ve “been my own boss.” Over and over again it is proven true: the personality, goals, values, and habits of the leader, dramatically shape the team and dynamics of the work environment. I’ve also seen, it’s impossible to escape the realities of influence and control. Even for those of us who run our own companies or nonprofits, our largest customers, our largest donors, and our boards of directors all play the role of the people in power.
This is the first in a series of four posts on leading up.
Leading up is the art and skill of influencing your boss.
In this installment, we begin by considering more deeply the reality of power in the workplace. In parts two and three, we’ll do a deep dive into the motivational profiles of four types of bosses. Each type will include warnings and winning strategies. The series will close with a consideration of three practices that almost always make it possible to lead up.
How aware are you of the power dynamics in your workplace? Power may be defined as the ability to get things done through others, even when others do not completely buy into the plan. Power may also be defined as having a measure of choice at work: what tasks are prioritized, how decisions are made, and how the actual work is completed. Control and freedom, the more you have of them, the more power you have.
If you grew up in a society that values equality, you may not like to think about power.
If you’ve had a moment at work, where you were convinced you knew the best way forward, only to have that strategy blocked or indefinitely put on hold by an inept leader at the helm, you may see power as the problem.
If you have been bullied or coerced to compromise your values, priorities, or convictions, you may hate the idea that one person or group has sway over the wellbeing and success of another.
If you are a student of flat organizations and collaboration, you may think that “power dynamics” involve archaic concepts, the fixation of organizational Neanderthals.
All of these experiences are real. Yet, they are not the focus of this series. This is not a series for bosses, it is instead for the supervised. Most of you reading this piece chose where to work. You can walk away from your job and crazy boss if you want or need to make a change.
Complaining about the fact that someone else has the ability to shape your work-life reality is a waste of time.
It is a waste of time because you cannot fight reality. You can only face it and execute a strategy to make it as good as it can be.
How are we to understand the brutal reality of power at work? Consider this ancient proverb.
A king’s wrath is a messenger of death, and a wise man will appease it. In the light of a king’s face there is life, and his favor is like the clouds that bring the spring rain. ~Proverbs 16:14-15
Translation: stirring up the anger of your boss (the king), is a sure way to lose your place at the table (aka, die!). But finding your way onto the list of the people your boss likes and wants to help, that is like the rain that brings bountiful crops, (aka, scaling success).
The ancient wisdom writer is saying what we all know to be true, but resist admitting. Our wellbeing, success, and path forward depend on others. They depend on the person or persons in authority.
At your place of employment, someone is in charge. They get things done. They determine who is in and who is out, who rises and who falls. In the proverb, they are called the king. Leaving the king or killing the king are not options! You have to learn how to garner influence with them.
Influence is the ability to get what you need to effectively produce the results you are hired to produce.
To influence and lead up to your boss, you need to understand her motivational profile and adjust your strategy accordingly.
A map of boss types is found below, and we will begin to examine each component in depth, in our next post.
How About You?
- How do you relate to the opening discussion on the power of power dynamics at work? What perspective and baggage do you bring to this topic?
- On a scale of 1 to 10, (1 being not at all, 10 being complete) rate how much you agree with the importance of understanding power at work.
- Based on today’s post, what are three things you may need to adjust in your expectations for work and your strategy for relating to your boss?