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Perspective: Peter Wilson on building a better boss

It’s a lot easier to be effective in HR if you have a ‘dream boss’. By my ballpark estimate, a significant majority of HR practitioners don’t.

Many have to contend with the uphill battles their difficult, controlling boss engenders. Sometimes their boss has myopic and misguided views as well.

If you’re in this situation, the question is what you can do to be more effective and make your job easier.

The most common complaint I hear is about the boss who’s a micromanaging control freak. One option is to find out who managed him or her in the past and make contact to seek confidential advice. If they managed the person well, they’ll know where the touchy buttons are and which ones switch your boss on in terms of job performance. Some buttons will be best left unpushed.

You can complement this research by networking with your boss’s peers, especially if your group’s work affects their output. Kick off discussions with your concern about where the company is going overall and seek out their own concerns, challenges and impacts. From there, you can tease out what they know about how to manage your boss most effectively.

If that sounds political, it is. But HR is all about managing people, workplace environments and performances, so when a difficult boss makes it harder, you need to reach for systemic solutions and assistance.

At the end of the day, these two strategies will lead to you having to confront your boss. This is the time to use your collected intelligence not only to enhance your capability in managing him or her, but also in targeting an explicit pact to work better together.

Such conversations will usually include your statements about the “bigger picture”, that you are “on their side” when it comes to having positive impacts, and where the win-wins can be.

You should now be in a better position to control any future micromanaging, because the previous dialogue can be used to build confidence, and to reference where you are up to in terms of your agreed bigger-picture pact.

Lastly, keep your mind ahead of the game, not stuck in the past. Look to build on experiences and opportunities to move out of any unhealthy control situation, and network with others to enhance those pathways of exit, and hopefully growth for yourself.

Cruising in control

Another challenge is the distracted boss who seems underwhelmed by work, life, or both. Here, it’s important for your own welfare and career not to check out as well and cruise along between paydays.

Pressures to perform on the job are relentless, and you may have a boss against whom the clock is ticking. If you are also seen as modelling these poor behaviours and efforts, you have a very good chance of being the next person to exit after your boss.

The best approach is simple. Speak up. Probe the boss as to whether his or her current role has run its course and they are looking for the  next big job. They may have issues at home, or issues with their boss or peers, and a diplomatic probe in this direction can be revealing.

The fact that you are raising your concern will alert your boss to the fact that this ‘running on empty’ style is an observable condition that needs changing. Suggest ways for neglected parts of the job to be delegated to you or someone else. Be proactive at picking up on gaps and volunteer to fill them.

That will bring you under the notice of others, who may speak up for you, especially if your boss does eventually go down. 

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the June 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘Building a better boss’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership. Find out more about AHRI membership here

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