There are as many types of bosses as people you can find in any given Company. Regardless of the size, industry or type of Company you are in, anyone and everyone has the potential of becoming your boss.
There are many ways of typifying bosses. Many articles out there you can read on the subject, some very accurate even. Not a lot to add to them so I thought you would be happy to know this is not going be one of those posts. I thought I’d give you examples instead of types, as this series is based on experiences rather than knowledge. I’m sure most if you will find these to be very common and familiar and you might already have a name for them, and maybe even a last name and a face.
These examples are parts of real situations and conversations I lived with different bosses, manager os leaders I worked for. I still consider myself lucky as I truly believe I was given the chance to learn from them and in some cases, with them.
The one one that knows, but doesn’t know what to do with that knowledge.
“So, what do you think would be our next step?”, I asked our Sr. VP of the Region. He was a renowned professional with over 30 years in the Industry out of which 15 had been around steering the wheel and commanding the crew. A respected leader he was and I reported to him for a short period of time. I was awed by his rank and tenure honestly.
“Well, what do you think it should be?”, came his answer. It got me thinking, as my question was intended to get some feedback from him and it seemed to me his answer was all about making me think, finding the answer my self. That felt empowering, so I thought for a few minutes while he switched his view from me to his smartphone, back and forth.
“I am not sure to be honest. We’re hitting our targets but can’t seem to go above 110% . I am not sure how to break through that roof”. That was an honest answer, though it felt incomplete. He knew that already as he was the one measuring my results, but he didn’t know how frustrated I was, or so I thought.
“So you know your goal. All you’re missing is a method to get there.” he said. It was good enough to get me going honestly, so I thanked him and left him alone in his office.
As I walked back to my station, I started feeling doubtful again. I knew for a fact that this guy never missed his quota. In fact he never hit less than 125% of his number. He knew “stuff”, I was certain, but he decided to coach me using the Socratic Method, which would have worked perfectly if I had had the experience or skills needed to reach to my own conclusions alone or with a little more stimulation. I was only a new sales manager back then and as everyone getting to that role from the field, all I knew was what I had learnt so far which didn’t quite help.
I now realize that the proper set of questions could have eventually sent me into a whole different direction, and maybe even achieved my goals back then. It would have started with a simple one though, a question I knew he could have asked to me but decided not to: “why do you want to get over 110%?”.
It’s easy to criticize other people’s way of doing things, I know, yet I am not doing so right now. I am barely thinking that he did what he thought best to share just what he felt confident he could share with me: a bit of knowledge that would satisfy me and help me without him needing to coach me through it, which eventually proved to be the inverse to what I really needed back then: a coach.
The one that doesn’t know and doesn’t want others to find out.
Being a boss and not knowing the craft can be hard. It has the potential of swamping your career and it can affect you personally. The key to dodging those things though is, usually, speaking up in time. Nobody knows everything there is to know and there is no shame in admitting to it. In fact, it usually only leads to actually getting help. Here’s an example.
“So, about this guy, what can I do with him?” I asked my manager. He stared at me, nervously. I knew he didn’t want to have this conversation, but I had reached the point when I needed him to help me make a decision. The job of one of my employees was at stake after all.
“Well if you don’t know what to do about him, why should I?” Was his answer, too fast and bitter. I could see him regretting those words the instant he finished saying them, but he didn’t flinch, kept on going.
“You know what, you can just put him in an improvement plan and see how it goes. After all, if he doesn’t even hit the numbers he’s no good”. That seemed to please him more than his previous answer, his face showed more confidence now.
“You’re right about performance, but this is his first quarter not selling and he has strong pipeline for the next one. Performance alone might be a stretch, and I haven’t made up my mind about letting him go just yet. It’s more around his attitude than anything else. Shouldn’t we work with him so he can stay?” . I didn’t intend for my answer to end up in yet another question for this guy, but it did. I genuinely didn’t want to let this person go and was seeking for alternatives so naturally the first person I went to for this was this guy, my manager.
A blank face received my answer / question. Fidgety eyes moved from my face to his screen, back and forth. His face turned a bit ashen and for a a few brief moments he seemed to be about to answer, until he said:
“I have a conference call in 5 minutes and I need to prepare. Work on this and fix it, tell me when you’ve come up with a solution and I’ll review it.” And then suddenly stopped looking at me, as if I was not there. I could see some relief in his eyes, even though he was trying really hard to pretend I was gone already. I just stood up and left.
In this particular case it was evident he didn’t know what to do or how to advice me. That is when an honest “let me think about it, I don’t have an answer right now”, or a simple “I don’t know, but let’s work together on this” would have made a difference. Hiding the very human fact that he didn’t know everything didn’t help this guy, not with me or with any of the other managers reporting to him.
The one that doesn’t know that he or she knows, and doesn’t care.
Help doesn’t come whenever we need it. Most of the times we need to fix things on our own, but sometimes when it does come to you it is amazing. My favorite way of receiving help is when it comes just because it’s there. I’ve always found it to be wonderful, that thing about discovering the obvious: it was just there within reach but you hadn’t reached out before. The best help is the one that’s always been around, and what you will read below is an example.
“What should I do?” I asked my boss, over the phone. She had been in my situation before, and I was asking her to support me through my predicament now. I had been offered a job in another team, and she and I had a great relationship, strong enough for me to risk asking. But she would loose me if I did go.
“You should think about it, as much as you can.” was her answer. I could hear interest in her voice, and a bit of of preoccupation. She could have advised me to stay and worked her way to making me do so, but she didn’t. Instead, she added “if the opportunity is good, why not take it?”
“I don’t know. I have never led a team like that before, never run that kind of team before.” And this last part came out with a bit of desperation in my voice. I truly didn’t know what to do. She picked up on that though, and came back to me.
“If it’s giving you all these doubts and you still haven’t discarded it, it doesn’t matter if it’s the wrong move. It’s still what you want to do.” Her voice wasn’t steady either. She had gone through this with her manager once, I even knew the guy and know she had a very good relationship with him and felt like she was jumping ship. We had built such a relationship as well.
Before I could answer she added “It’s your career. Never let anyone choose for you. You will be fine.”. That last bit did it for me. I didn’t feel more secure actually, it wasn’t any better but I knew I had to take this opportunity, and it was because of her and her advice.
I knew she knew. She knew she knew. We were discussing me quitting her team and joining another one, even though she knew I wasn’t going to make it. It was not about her empowering me to believe in myself, but rather letting me take the chance. Knowing didn’t make a difference because she understood I didn’t need knowledge but just the right words back then. When the time came though and I was fired, she was amongst the first to call me, and instead of saying “I told you so”, she said “I’m here for you, let me know if I can help at all”.
That’s the thing with Corporations. You get all types of people in different roles, yet if you want to typify it’s more about the roles, not the actual humans occupying those. Bosses are very much like soda or beer tin caps: you would think they are all cut the same as they fit in those standard roles, but they are not. Every now and then you see the difference in those who want to make it and that’s when you realize it’s not just a boss anymore, but a mentor, a guide, a leader and maybe even, a friend.