Checkers or Chess?

This is part two of our Leading Up series, where we uncover the secrets of influence with your boss so you can find greater effectiveness and joy at work.

A summary of our first post: Your boss (or bosses) are in charge. This is reality. Face this truth, so you can learn to master it.

In this installment and our next, we will do a deep dive into the motivational profiles or four different types of bosses.

Before we do a deep dive to the secret software running on your supervisor, we pose a mindset question:

Do you approach your boss in a checker’s mindset or a chess mindset?

In checkers, every piece is the same; every piece follows the same rules for movement. It is straightforward and does not require much adjustment.

In chess, there are six different types of pieces, each with their own rules for movement, their specific strategies for attacking the opponent, and their unique vulnerabilities.

If you have a checkers mindset at work, you treat every person as if they are the same. (Most likely you treat them as if they were like you). And you relate to your current boss the way you did to your last boss and perhaps like the significant authority figures in your life.

If you have a chess mindset at work, you recognize that there are different types, different kinds of people, with different motives and personalities. And most importantly, you realize you need to have a customized strategy in alignment with their uniqueness.

If you’ve made it this far in this post, it is time for chess lessons!

The Boss Matrix and Winning with Your Higher-Ups

VOCA’s Boss Matrix:

Here we have the boss-matrix, reveal four different motivational patterns for bosses as defined by where they land on two different axes of orientation: are they individual or team-oriented, are they results or relationship-driven? In this post, we look at two kinds of bosses who frame work as individual contributors—they look at work as something they do on their own. You don’t work with these bosses you work for them.

As individual players in the workspace, some bosses are more results-oriented and others are more relationship-oriented.

Show me #’s: Individualistic, results-oriented bosses love numbers. Numbers that represent you producing results, more and more results over time. They want to know that your output is up and to the right, that your productivity this year is better than last year. These bosses want to see you put numbers on the board: items sold, clients served, services delivered, etc. And the one subject that gets their interest more than any is how your numbers are doing. They ask: “Is your department growing?” and “What is in your pipeline?” They practically foam at the mouth when you mention big opportunities for more numbers.

Cardinal Sin: Like all the other bosses, #’s bosses have a cardinal sin, a rule that if broken, will unleash their wrath and get you killed (or at least sent away to the work equivalent of exile). Not making your number is the painfully obvious way to lose with this type of boss. You make the tension even worse if you promise big results and then don’t deliver.

Sweet spot: The sweet spot, the success zone with these bosses is any time you exceed estimates. If you have a #’s boss, make sure you under-promise and over-deliver. Be subtle about this, not excessive. Publically estimating you’ll do $10,000 and then produce $150,000 seems like you have terrible estimating skills. Most jobs that net out to numbers have a minimum expectation for production. Best to know that! Share your sales or output estimates at the bottom of the range, towards the minimum required. And then go from there.

Practice: To survive and thrive in a workplace led by a #’s driven boss, you have to discern how to put numbers on the board without selling your soul. You can learn how to sell, how to persuade, how to process cases, clients, or tasks efficiently and accurately. Identify the people in your company who are already doing well. Learn everything you can from them. If no one in your department or division is hitting the numbers, find people who do produce well at other companies or similar industries. Find the best practices and implement them.

Secrets: Sometimes #’s boss talk big and then accept some percentage of goals (I’ve seen 50%). It can be likened to the cushion highway patrol officers give drivers on the speed limit. They will never admit this, but you can come up with an accurate estimate if you watch and listen carefully.

Another reality is that some bosses, particular those who were uber-productive, are impossible to work for.  They have failed to understand their own success, so they are unable to train others.  If you have one of these, keep working your current job while you look for a new one

RELATED: Truths About Finishing Strong That Your Boss Won’t Tell You

It Really Is All About Me (Not you!), The Ego Driven Boss.

Individually oriented, relationally motivated bosses net out to the ego-driven boss. When you boil it all down, this boss wants to look good in front of others. They want to be the smartest, the hippest, the most admired person in the room. This type of boss is very conscious of their brand equity and is constantly fussing about how results and behaviors will “appear.”

How to lead up with an ego-driven boss?

Cardinal Sin: based on the above description, any action or comment that would diminish the reputation and standing of your boss constitute the kind of cardinal sin that will spark his anger and ultimately result in a change of fortunes for you in the negative direction. Verbal disparaging the boss in front of others, verbal disparaging the boss behind her back, failing to deliver results that will diminish her credibility with power players, all of these are examples of cardinal sins in the eyes of the ego-driven boss.

Sweet Spot and Best Practice are the same in this case. It is a two-step process: 1) Find things about your boss, which you can authentically celebrate or praise. This may be like searching for buried treasure without a map, but once you apply yourself, you’ll be able to find some good in your supervisor. 2) Find ways to share those compliments that are not patronizing yet will win you points.

The sweet spot is staying the “fan of the boss” category. And the practice is finding noteworthy achievements and qualities and sharing compliments in that regard as appropriate.

Secret: Ego driven bosses are perhaps the most difficult to work for because their primary drive is their own image improvement, not job-related outcomes or deliverables. The best strategy may be to avoid working for one. So how do you avoid this hazard?

Listen carefully. Even in an interview, ego-driven bosses will spend more time touting their individual accomplishments and the people they know and less time listening to you, the interviewee. Ego driven bosses find it “nails on the chalkboard” hard to share credit or celebrate the victories of others. Listen for this as well

How About You?

  1. If you are a boss or become one someday, which of these types best describes you and why?
  2. Which of these categories best describes your current boss?
  3. Jesus said to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves, how does this apply to the way you relate to your boss?
  4. Based on the approaches espoused in this post, what have you been doing wrong, what have the consequences been, and what will you do differently tomorrow?

Dr. Chip Roper is the President and Principal Consultant of The VOCA Center. VOCA’s vision is to rescue individuals and teams from the forces that would rob them of joy and effectiveness at work. Certified in Executive Coaching at Columbia University, Chip tackles the vocational challenge from 30 years of experience as a small businessman, a pastor, a career coach, and a business consultant.  You can learn more about VOCA’s faith-based services at www.vocacenter.org and more about their commercial offerings at www.vocacenter.com.