We All Want To Win at Work

Here’s what I know about you: to win at work, you must relate effectively to your boss.

We can make a practical argument here. Perhaps no other single factor will determine your advancement and well-being at work than your capacity to understand and influence your direct supervisor or supervisors. We can make a spiritual argument as well: the writers of scripture simultaneously taught their readers to 1) respect those in authority, and 2) to understand that God is the ultimate authority with whom everyone will have to follow. So in deference to the final authority— God —you dole out some respect to your boss a temporary authority in your life.

In the first post of this series, we’ve made an argument for facing well-being shaping reality of bosses. Posts two and three were a deep dive into four different motivational profiles of those who sit in the leadership chair. I advocate a “chess” approach to Leading Up. In chess, the pieces are each different and require tailored strategies. Relating to your boss is similar; there are at least four types of motivational patterns for bosses and thus four approaches to winning.

In this final post, I want to highlight seven general strategies for garnering influence with those to whom you report no matter what their motivational profile. In “normal” cases, having these qualities will lead to respect, advancement, and influence. In terribly broken cases, these traits could lead to an exit on your part. Ultimate outcomes are beyond our direct control.

It is fruitless to attempt to control your boss or to fix them.

Instead, we settle into a way of being that aligns with these deep values, and we trust that things will work out at our current place of employment or at a future place of work that appreciates these values. We begin with wisdom.

1. Wisdom

A servant who deals wisely has the king’s favor, but his wrath falls on one who acts shamefully. ~Proverbs 14:35

Wisdom knows what to do and when to do it. Some might call it practical knowledge. Being known as a person who discerns and follows the best path—technically and relationally with colleagues, in what you do and do not say—this is usually a path to influence.

Saying or doing things that in hindsight are embarrassing will ultimately result in declining fortunes. With bosses, it’s better to be quiet and invisible rather than outspoken and foolish.

How would you rate yourself on wisdom?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work:

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2. Truth

Righteous lips are the delight of a king, and he loves him who speaks what is right.  ~Proverbs 16:3

To speak the truth and to pursue what is fair and just: these behaviors are behind these words “righteous” and “right.” And  these are the kinds of words leaders appreciate. Many a hard-charging, type-A person has told me the single thing they value about me is that I tell them the truth. No flattery or pandering. Some leaders may not want to know the truth, and those are the types you don’t want to follow.

How would you rate yourself on truth-telling?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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3. Sincerity

He who loves purity of heart, and whose speech is gracious, will have the king as his friend.  ~Proverbs 22:11

To be pure in heart is to have sincere motives. Mature bosses are very good at sizing up people. They quickly can tell if you’re seriously committed or not; they can tell if you genuinely mean what you say or are trying to “fake it till you make it.” Why are you in your current role? What do you love about the work, the product or service, and the company? Answer those questions quickly and honestly, and you’re on your way to the kind of sincerity leaders love to find in their team.

How would you rate yourself on sincerity?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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4. Tenacity

With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone.  ~Proverbs 25:15

Today’s consumer culture trains us to get rapid results. People, especially those in large organizations, tend not to yield to our demands for instant change. The secret under this play is to think  “long game,” “distance run,” and give it time.

Questions, gentle and clear suggestions, actually have the power to win when brought with persistence and respect.

The quality of tenacity raises the question of time horizon. It is a concept from investing: over what period do you expect to see a return. Have you given tenacity and savvy a reasonable amount of time to work?

How would you rate yourself on tenacity?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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5. Grace Under Fire

If the anger of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your place, for calmness will lay great offenses to rest. –~Ecclesiastes 10:4

So, what do you do when you’re called out in a meeting, falsely accused, or required to report less than stellar results? How do you handle it if the boss yells at you; yes yells, in front of others? The answer: do not cry, do not slam doors, and do not drop ultimatums. Do breathe deeply, do stay in your seat, and do stay calm until the storm blows over.

If this becomes a pattern, address the pattern privately with your boss. If it becomes a habit, a quiet exit or even a report to HR are appropriate. Otherwise, take it. Acknowledge responsibility for anything on your side of the desk.

If you exhibit the qualities in this list, your emotional maturity and intelligence will eclipse that of many of your bosses.

You will be the grown-up in the room. Usually, this will win them over.

How would you rate yourself on grace under fire?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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RELATED: How to Lose Friends and Destroy Your Influence

6. Humility

Do not put yourself forward in the king’s presence or stand in the place of the great, for it is better to be told, “Come up here,” than to be put lower in the presence of a noble.   ~Proverbs 25:6-7

This “wisdom” is the opposite of the cutthroat business culture that thrives in several major industries here in New York. But continuously playing the game to get ahead is exhausting: I know, it is one of the reasons our clients come to me for executive coaching. The other risk, at it happens with some frequency, is the danger of overplaying one’s hand, of grabbing for oneself a position of honor, power, or influence that has not been given. Constant posturing is a sure path to embarrassment and perhaps even corporate banishment.

Experienced bosses can also smell even just a whiff of flattery; they can spot the “player” from across the room. If they are building respectful, engaging team culture, their esteem for you will sink. If they are building a “survival of the fittest,” shark culture, they will admire your pluck and pat you on the back. Their response to the grab the mic types, tells you what is really valued in this workplace and gives you essential data from which to plan your next moves.

If you’re serious about being a Christian at work, fighting your way into the spotlight is antithetical to the way Jesus taught us, to the way that God promises to bless.

How would you rate yourself on humility?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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7. Talent

Do you see a man skillful in his work, He will stand before kings; he will not stand before obscure men. ~Proverbs 22:29

So if you are not always working to look good in front of the boss, what should you focus on to get ahead? Clear answer: excellent work. Being great at what you do is the ticket to new levels of advancement, challenge, and responsibility, at least in the kind of places you want to work.

Everybody can sing karaoke and record videos on their iPhone, but excellence is something for which we pay. We are spending more and more for the best artists and the best restaurants. Your boss is paying for you.

By continuing growing in your capacity to deliver results with excellence and poise, you are giving him his money’s worth, and you are building the foundation for your future.

For many of us being skillful at work involves a technical dimension and a human dimension. There is some process or product or discipline or service practice we are expected to know well. And we are also expected to be able to communicate with and work well with others. Almost every job gives you to increase in either human or technical skill; many are learning labs for both.

At my firm, VOCA, we get up in the morning to help people understand the strongest talents and work with them to map out ways they can lean into their hard-wired abilities to win at work.

How would you rate yourself on playing to your talent?

5, it is true of your always, 1 never being present in your mode of operating at work.

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How About You?

1. What is your aggregate score?

  • 27 or above is a strong score, and if your position is in a healthy organization in a strong line of business, you should be moving up.
  • 18-27 is a range where you are close, probably seeing some moderate career growth, but potentially being held back by one or two weak areas.
  • 9-18, you are missing out on influence with your boss and opportunities for growth at work.
  • 9 or below, your job is probably in jeopardy, especially when there is a contraction in your industry or company.

2. What is your weakest score? This is the dimension that is holding you back the most.  Work on this first. Then tackle your second weakest, etc. What is your weakest result, and how will you change it over the next quarter?

3. Who are the winners at your office or company (those who advance or who influence those in management)? Write a few names. How many of them are characterized by the qualities listed above? If the winners match this list, what does that mean for your future? If the winners do not match this list, if they are the opposite of the traits on this list, what does that mean for your future?

4. What is your single most important take away from this series on leading up? How will that learning change your way of acting and reacting on Monday?