Who’s the Boss?

Years ago I learned an important lesson on how to start relationships off.


I had just gotten a new boss and was preparing some information for him.

A lover of stats, slides and numbers I always had (and still have) data at hand. I “slimmed” down a package into maybe 35 charts , went to meet him and then proceeded to wow him with the depth of my intellect and the height of my prowess covering him with slides, charts, numbers, trends, ad infinitum.

We never got on well

My buddy Ed, in another group, had a great relationship with him from the beginning.

How did he do it?

He took him out for a burger and a beer.

Turns out my boss hated charts.

True story.

The point is this: when we get new bosses and business partners we should spend more time understanding who they are and what they need before we show them how smart we are. Or maybe you figured that out and its just me that needs to get it. Either way, its therapeutic.

Building a relationship with a new boss then is a skill I learned.

Here's what counts.

  • Start at the beginning – Every boss has a story: how they got here, what they care about and so on. Instead of the baptising them by full-body immersion in the business start at the beginning. Who are they? What excites them about work? What's important in their lives? These foundation questions help build a solid base to start from – one that will come in handy as the stress of work increases for both of you.
  • Let them decide – Each of us has a perspective on the important issues at work. The key things that have to be addressed. Its vital to have this passion and interest. But don't assume your set of issues and interests will necessarily be your boss'. Let them understand the business and set their own course – whether or not its the one you would adopt.
  • Build your bank account – One day you'll need to cash a large check drawn on your bank account of trust with your boss. But if you haven't been making regular deposits into that account that check may well be returned NSF – insufficient funds. How to do this? Do what you say will, when you say it. Be reliable, dependable and predictable. Get things done. Be solid. Build your account balance.
  • Praise publicly, critique quietly – I know, you're saying that's your boss' role and you would be right. But remember they're human too. They enjoy the same consideration you do when people give you kudos, and when its time for counsel. Build trust, be loyal, pick your moments and whatever you do, never make it personal when giving your boss feedback.
  • Remember they're the boss – Above all remember this as you partner with your boss in setting priorities, plans and then implementing them. Despite the disclaimer that “we're all part of the same team” the truth is not every one is equal on that team. Respect that and deliver results against the agenda your boss sets: that's the best way to build a relationship with her.

There are lots of jokes about insufferable bosses yet the truth is this is one of the most important relationships in our lives, so its no joking matter. We can influence how well – or poorly – this relationship begins and continues.

Ready for the next chart?



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