Tech & Work

Tips for managing up

Having trouble dealing with your boss? Studies show that fear is the most common factor beneath bad management behavior.

I ran across a piece today by Anne Kadet called 10 ways to make your boss love you. Once I got over the uncomfortable mental image of an employee standing under his boss's window with a boom box blaring Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" (ala the movie Say Anything), I found this article very informative.

Kadet emphasizes, among other things, the benefits of having empathy for the boss (undertanding some of his or her pressures), being positive, and showing initiative.

One statement in particular was intriguing to me. Kadet mentions a study by consultant Lynn Taylor, who interviewed 200 bosses and employees and discovered that the one factor underlying all the supervisors' most annoying behaviors was fear. In fact, many of the recommendations in the article are based on easing the fears of the boss, and subsequently, earning his or her loyalty. Kadet says,

"Whether a boss is being demanding, critical, stubborn or needy, chances are she's scared of failing or looking bad to her own boss."

I believe, also, that fear is a frequent determiner of management behavior. Sometimes it comes from insecurity about being able to lead a team — not a far-flung fear when you consider how infrequently companies offer management training. (Case in point: Spending on leadership development as a share of employee education budgets fell 20 percent last year.)

Sometimes fear sprouts naturally from the pressures handed down by the executive team. Can I make those numbers? Can I meet that deadline?

The point of Kadet's piece is to understand these fears and support your boss. I'm concerned, however, that some people will take the tips given in the article and interpret them as ways to use their boss's fear to manipulate him or her. For example, "Make like Mini-Me":

They say that if you want to be the boss, you should dress like the boss. That's true. But here's an even better reason to copy your supervisor's look: It creates an instant connection. Research shows that we feel more comfortable and trusting around people who reaffirm the validity of our own choices, and that includes our choice of fashion. An employee who adopts the boss's look is saying he's on the boss's team, says Clearwater, Fla., image consultant Kelly Machbitz.

I'd have to draw the line there. And not just because I don't want to have to start wearing ties like my boss. It's just that I think that advice strays from helping a boss ease his or her fears to something along the lines of subconscious manipulation, which is a little creepy.

But over all, I think Kadet offers some good advice in the article, and it's worth checking out.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

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