Family reunions are a great time to reconnect with loved ones, relive great memories, and in my case, spend a little time exploring the world of management through the eyes of a cross-generational collection of practitioners. This year’s gathering yielded one tale in particular which sounded all too familiar to me and which I have touched on in various ways elsewhere in this series of articles.
IMAGINE, you have been the number two manager in your organization for several years and the number one job opens up. Naturally, you hope to move up and in most cases, undoubtedly believe you are qualified and ready with justification. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, somebody else from outside your immediate organization gets the number one job.
Being only human, you are undoubtedly disappointed and probably wondering what it was the higher-ups found wanting in your skills and performance. But like most of us whose management careers were more a series of peaks and valleys — not a steep and rapid upward climb — you suck it up with maturity and set about to build a positive relationship with your new boss.
What you bring to this new relationship is experience and a commitment to the welfare of your organization. You have been there, know the lay of the land, know the special challenges and hidden pitfalls, have a sound feel for the overall operating environment and workforce, and a good sense of your customer base. But in the all too familiar story I referred to above, the new boss was NOT A LISTENER or a LEARNER. Now what?
Although perhaps interesting, I recommend spending little time speculating about why the new boss seems unwilling or unable to learn. Learning disabled bosses come in many varieties; those who see the ideas of others as threats to and criticisms of their own intelligence; those who want all the credit for everything that happens; those who flat believe they are the smartest person in the room; etc. Better to focus on the real challenge: how to get him or her to open their ears to you. Here are some suggestions.
Θ Be persistent. Keep your ideas and advice coming. This might be difficult initially when you are feeling disappointed, or when continually ignored. But remember this is your job as a number two, regardless of the boss’s receptiveness. Keep doing your job.
Θ When your new boss makes a mistake based on his or her lack of receptiveness to your input, resist the temptation to gloat or express an “I told you so”. Yes that might momentarily feel good but is unlikely to result in a positive response. Unless the new boss is severely learning disabled, an accumulation of early missteps is often sufficient to render them more open to the input of others, if for no other reason, self-preservation.
Θ Try thinking of your task as a “leadership or mentoring up challenge”. What you are trying to demonstrate and teach by example is the fundamental truth that two brains are almost always smarter than one. Demonstrate the power of listening and learning by your own example when interacting with your new boss. Try to bring your insights to bear on a situation by building on his or hers, not as representing an opposing point of view. Seize opportunities to bolster your new boss’s confidence in your intentions, by letting him or her know that you advice has their best interests — not just your own — in mind. Above all, model the sort of partnership you are trying to create by how you interact with your own subordinates.
Θ At the same time, take the time to gain feedback from those who filled the number one job concerning why you were not selected. Do so bearing in mind that in many cases, it will be due to factors that had little or nothing to do with you. But if you learn that your performance has some area needing improvement or refinement, the sooner you accept that insight and get to work on it, the better.
The very best managers are natural learners; they hit the ground learning not running. But we don’t always get to pick our new boss. With a little luck, time, experience, and the suggestions above have proven effective in facilitating a number two’s efforts to create the desired relationship with an initially hard of hearing new boss.
On the other hand, when nothing you try works, it is generally wise to get out from under an endlessly frustrating situation as soon as possible. Living indefinitely in an emotionally and intellectually draining work situation, will inevitably have a negative impact on anybody’s performance.