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Review: Steve Arneson’s What Your Boss Really Wants From You – 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

what your bossThis review first ran in the Dec. 22 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

What Your Boss Really Wants From You: 15 Insights to Improve Your Relationship

By Steve Arneson

Berrett-Koehler Publishers

$19.95

Some of us are blessed to work for a great boss.

There are no surprises. Expectations are clear. Our boss wants us to give an honest day’s work. She counts on us to stay positive, be a team player, pitch innovative ideas and deliver outstanding results.  She also wants the best for us and finds ways to help us grow and succeed.

But maybe you’re cursed to report to an international man of mystery. His moods, motives and motivations are indecipherable. His expectations are vague. Maybe he’s insecure, a control freak, career focused or driven by a healthy ego.

The uncertainty leaves you a nervous wreck at work and miserable at home.  You’ve cast yourself as the victim. Your boss is the villain. And everything’s his fault. This is not a healthy way to spend your days.

If you’re keen to improve your most important work relationship in 2015, the onus is on you. Your boss won’t spend a minute thinking of you over the holidays. Vowing to make amends will not be his New Year’s resolution.

For the relationship to improve, you have to be the first to change. “The hard truth is that all of your efforts to improve, fix or convert your boss won’t work,” says Steve Arneson, a leadership coach and author of What Your Boss Wants. “The secret is changing your own approach to interacting with your boss. The transformation has to be one you undergo in your awareness, attitude and behaviors. This isn’t always easy, but it’s the only path that will get you to a better place with your boss.”

Start by studying your boss and getting answers to 10 questions. When and how is your boss most approachable? What is his preferred management style? What behaviors does he reward? What is he trying to accomplish in this role? What is he worried about? What is his reputation in the company? Whom does he respect? Where does he have influence? What is his relationship like with his boss? What is his primary motivation?

Here’s a key insight. Know what’s at the top of the immediate to-do list for your boss. Anticipate how you can help. If you can’t contribute, get out of the way and stay off his radar screen. “If you’re not involved with this priority, what he wants from you is to leave him alone,” says Arneson. “Pestering him to look at your presentation, or bugging him to get on his calendar is only going to annoy him.”

Now look at how your boss sees you. “You’ll have to put away your ego or biases to build an impartial view of how she really sees you.” Ask yourself five questions. What does your boss value about you? How vital are you to her mission? What does she think you need to improve? How does she represent you to others? And what is her history with you?

Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to take responsibility for the relationship. The most important adjustment you’ll have to make is your attitude, says Arneson.  “You’ll never successfully change your behavior if you don’t first adjust your attitude. Adjusting your attitude starts with changing the way you view your boss.”

You need to rewrite the story so you’re no longer the victim who’s always right and your boss is the villain who’s forever wrong. You then need to start telling your revised story to everyone at work. “Your peers and direct reports need to hear you talk differently about the boss. They have to feel like you’re taking responsibility for the relationship. Replace sarcastic comments with benefit-of-the-doubt statements. Walk away from pity parties with colleagues, or better yet, turn them into productive brainstorming sessions about how to work with the boss more effectively.”

Your most important relationship at work is with your boss. For better or worse, she decides your fate. Quitting your job and starting over somewhere else is one option but you could find yourself working for a new boss who’s a lot like your old boss or even worse. Before jumping ship, it’s worth taking stock of the boss you have and taking the responsibility to build a stronger relationship in 2015.

Review: Rich Karlgaard’s The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success

soft edgeThis review first ran in the Dec. 8 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.

The Soft Edge: Where Great Companies Find Lasting Success

By Rich Karlgaard

Jossey-Bass

$34

You’ve stocked your senior executive team with the sharpest analytical minds that money can buy.

They’re masters at making the numbers and keeping the trains running on time.

But your dream team’s a bust and your organization’s in trouble if no one trusts them.

Trust is the force multiplier of all things good in your organization, says Rich Karlgaard, author of The Soft Edge and publisher of Forbes magazine.

Trust gets you engaged employees and loyal customers. Trust gives you a recruitment and retention advantage and lands you on top employer lists. Trust buys you grace, forgiveness and a second chance when something goes wrong. “Maybe most important, trust underpins innovation by facilitating learning and experimentation,” says Karlgaard.

When trust is lacking, look to the top of the org chart. “Trust isn’t based on what the company is doing; it’s based on what its leaders are doing,” says Karlgaard. “Trustworthy organizations and insincere leadership are incongruous. Engaging in moral behavior is one of the easiest ways for any leader to demonstrate trustworthiness, while also creating a trusting climate.”

Leaders build trust inside and outside of their organizations by demonstrating genuine concern for others.  They put your interests of ahead of self-interest and personal gain. “We tend to trust people we believe will care about our welfare.”

Trust is one of five pillars that make up the largely misunderstood, neglected and underfunded soft edge of business that’s essential to lasting success for any organization.

Yes, you need the right strategy. As FedEX founder Fred Smith has said, “you can have the best operations. You can be the most adept at whatever it is that you’re doing. But if you have a bad strategy, it’s all for naught.”

You also need to execute precisely on the hard edge of business, where it’s all about speed, cost, your supply chain, logistics and capital efficiency.

But to be great, you must also excel on the soft edge of business, with a focus on trust, smarts, teams, taste and story.

“Great, enduring organizations are masters at both the hard and soft edges,” says Karlgaard. “In this tough, global Great Reset economy, mastery of the oft-neglected soft edge will become as crucial as (or even more critical than) mastery of the hard edge.”

Karlgaard defines organizational smarts as grit, perseverance and hard work.  “Grit leads directly to being smarter and results in an ability to learn more and adapt faster.”

Teams deliver accountability, passion and effort. “When we work together, we make each other better.”  Smaller is mightier when it comes to high performing teams.  Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, has the two pizza rule.  Your team’s the right size if you can feed them with two pies.  “Work your way to the smallest possible number you think you need and then subtract one,” says Karlgaard about building teams.  “The minus one philosophy forces the remaining team members to be creative. That’s where you start. Lean and hungry.”

Taste is about more than smart design. “It’s a universal sensibility, an emotional engagement that appeals to the deepest part of ourselves. We see it in those magical products that not only show us at our best but also make us feel and perform even better.”

And story creates a shared sense of purpose and builds an organization’s brand. “A leader’s job is to articulate and help people cohere around a shared purpose that embraces the company’s past and outlines its future. Few vehicles serve to deliver your message as effectively as the art of storytelling.”

Karlgaard says we’re at a crossroads, with hard-edge people running the show. “Too many business leaders today, pressured by a tough economy, badgered by shareholders, find it tempting to neglect their employees’ and customers’ deeper values. Alienation and distrust are on the rise. We can and should do better in the way we run our companies. It will profit us in the long run if we do.”

So start by asking for the hard truth. Do the people you serve inside and outside your organization trust you?  If not, make trust-building job one in 2015.