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"Trust Me, I Work Here Too!"

How to convince a domineering, micromanaging boss to get off your back, empower you and let you work like an adult. Work wonders with this seven-point plan.

by Eric Garner

My sister-in-law Megs almost threw her glass of wine over me in a temper tantrum once!

OK, before you run away with the idea of a family scandal, let me explain.

I was at the christening of my brother’s baby daughter and I met up with Megs for the first time in ages.

I asked Megs how things were and then innocently asked how work was. It’s the trainer in me, you see.

Now, hardly had I got the question out when Megs poured out a torrent of invective against her boss. Her face contorted, her lips narrowed, her brow furrowed, her skin turned blotchy red. And that glass of wine in her hand started to shake like a ship’s bell in a hurricane.

When she calmed down some ten minutes later, I simply muttered knowingly, “Control freak, huh?”. To which Megs nodded.

The reason why this little incident stayed with me was because a little later on, I got to chatting with my eldest daughter who had then just turned 20. Somehow, we got round to talking about how she and I had had the mother of all rows when she was about 14 and wanted to go to a friend’s late-night party.

And how, I, being the protective, concerned…and, yes, frightened…dad wouldn’t let her.

And suddenly the penny dropped. Megs’ boss and I were doing exactly the same thing… not trusting our kids. And as a result Megs and my daughter reacted in the same way.

In most organisations, bosses are like parents. And their employees are like their kids

I tell this story because in most organisations, bosses are like parents. And their employees are like their kids. It’s a relationship that starts off in one way… as close, protective, and nurturing… but changes as the “kids” grow up.

When the relationship reaches the equivalent of the teenage years, it’s likely that the old mothering ways will feel more like smothering ways and the team member will want to break free. If the boss can’t or won’t change, then an explosion is likely to happen. Just like my daughter’s and Megs’.

On the drive home from the christening, I thought about Megs again. How she’d had a difficult time after her divorce from my elder brother and how, despite a young family to bring up, including a disabled child, she had been determined to stand on her own two feet.

She started working a few days a week at first but then changed to full-time. And this seemed to give her new life. When her daughter’s care home needed a new treasurer, she’d immediately stepped in and turned a budget deficit into a profit… where it has stayed ever since. She’s formidable. You should see the way she cajoles all of us in the family to do things we wouldn’t dream of doing for anyone else.

In my book, she’s a brilliant manager. Which just made her situation even more frustrating.

It reminded me of something Paul Neate once said…

“The average adult now has to manage what is in effect a dynamic business in their domestic lives. They have mortgages to manage, money to manage, relationships to manage, children’s educations to manage, households to manage, and social lives to manage.

And yet, when they come into our shops, offices and factories, we not only give them simple and meaningless tasks, but, as an added insult, we appoint someone to watch over them with the implicit message that they’re not up to it.”

By the time I reached home, my mind was made up. I couldn’t let Megs be destroyed by a boss whose style was stifling her. She needed help.

Donning my trainer’s hat, I decided to put pen to paper… well, font to screen, actually… and rescue her… before someone ended up with a glass of something all over them!

And the result is my seven-step guide to getting your boss to realise…

“…I’m not a kid any more!”

I started off by telling Megs that her plight wasn’t unique or unusual. It was a quirk of history.

To explain myself, I gave her a brief rundown of the history of management styles. How the old Industrial Age had created the control, or directive, style of management… with many outstanding technical successes, but not so many in people management. And how this macho style was now needed to change as the Industrial Age transformed itself into the Information Age.

This, I assured her, was an age in which new styles of management would arrive such as delegation, empowerment, and “letting go”. It had to. Information isn’t like industry. It’s not retained by the powerful few. It’s acquired and available to anyone willing to grasp it, learn it and use it.

That was the really good news for Megs.

The not-so-good news was that I couldn’t be sure when the macho style of management would come to an end in her neck of the woods… and when the glorious revolution of emancipation would start.

So, to be safe, I told her that she had to take action herself to speed things up.

And that’s where the seven-step guide came in.

So, this is for her… and anyone else who wants to get a control-freak boss to move into the new enlightened age.

1. Use the direct approach

If you want your boss to stop behaving in one way and do something different, the best place to start is to…

…simply tell them!

Just because the boss is the boss doesn’t mean they should be feared and unapproachable.

Keeping quiet when something’s really bothering you, simply reinforces the relationship that you’re unhappy about. It makes you submissive instead of assertive.

You also might be surprised at how your boss will react.

There’s the story about the schoolteachers who had never sat down with their kids to find out what they liked or didn’t like about the teaching. When they did, and the kids told them directly what they wanted, the teachers all changed their style to great effect.

So don’t be frightened. Give it a go.

If you have a formal appraisal scheme, where you can say what you want, so much the better.

Or regular meetings. You know, the bit where they say “Any Other Business?”

Or if you ever get stuck in a broken lift with the boss - just the two of you - tell them. Be nice about it, but tell them.

You never know.

Like those teachers, your boss might say…”Well, I never realised you felt like that… of course, I’ll give you more say.”

2. Enlist some help

If number one doesn’t work, move on to number two: enlisting allies. These days you’ll find allies for more empowered styles of management all over the place.

What about that young management trainee in Accounts whose team absolutely worship her? Couldn’t she have a quiet word with your boss?

Or how about the official route? Surely your training team are up on the newest management techniques and could arrange a spot of coaching.

And if these draw a blank, how about turning to some really powerful allies?

I know someone who once replaced the “You must be mad to work here” sign in the office with a quotation from J C Penney, founder of the biggest retail chain in the USA, saying that the wisest decision he’d ever made was to let go. That decision enabled the growth of hundreds of stores and thousands of jobs.

Let your mind rip with any kind of idea like this and you’re bound to find just the right one to influence your boss.

After all, you’re just letting him see the incoming tide, aren’t you?

3. Time to get serious

OK, so what if one or two draw a blank? Where next?

Well, it’s now time to take the kid gloves off and get serious.

This issue is so important that it now needs a full military-style campaign using every trick in the book. And where better than some good old marketing tricks…

…to sell your boss on the idea of letting go!

How about these…

1. Show you understand where they’re coming from with lots of empathy… and then lead them where you want to go. Something like…

”OK, boss, I know you need to keep a close eye on this thing… it’s your job, right… and the last thing you want us to do is to screw up… and here’s a way this can work better for you… all you need to do is… simple really…”

Gets them every time.

2. Turn on radio WIIFM… or “What’s In It For Me?”. In other words get your boss to see the huge benefits for him in doing more delegation.

Such as:

  • he’ll have more time to do what he wants
  • the team will grow as a team
  • everyone will learn something
  • the organisation will build its skills databank
  • jobs he doesn’t like will get done
  • people will get stretched
  • mundane jobs will become exciting
  • people will develop
  • there’ll be a buzz about the place
  • people will have fun
  • things will be more positive.

3. Address his fears. This is a classic marketing ploy. When you work out what your boss fears most about the change, address it and take away the fear. More about this in step 4 later.

4. Give him a guarantee in case it doesn’t work out. Suggest he give it a try for a month or two, and if it doesn’t work out, you’ll go back to the old ways. In sales-talk, this is known as the Puppy-Dog trick. Give the prospect the puppy dog for the weekend to see if the family like it and bring it back on Monday if they don’t. Rarely do you see people taking puppy dogs back on Monday mornings!

5. Give them a reason to act now. You don’t want them to “think about it” or investigate it or speak to their boss. Agree to do whatever will make them change now.

6. Throw in some extra sweeteners so that they just can’t refuse the deal. Agree to do that report by Friday. Get the office spotless. Fix the coffee machine. Do that overtime. Whatever they long to see done.

4. Tool up!

One of the reasons why many managers refuse to change their style is their inability to change long-established habits and their lack of new skills.

I think it’s nicely summed up by the common cry of the newly-empowered middle manager…

“… so what do we do on Tuesdays then?”

Without the new skills to handle employees who can now handle themselves, many middle managers fear they will make themselves redundant.

The truth of course is quite different.

The skills of the empowering manager are of a different order to those of the controlling manager. But they are skills nonetheless. And so can be learnt.

If you want your manager to change his style, help him learn those skills.

Suggest you and all the team undertake a “Delegation and Empowerment” training course. One that covers things like managing change, self-managing teams, standing back, the skills of leadership.

Or why not get the boss to take out a subscription to knowledge and skills-based websites?

5. Get them into shape!

By now, something must be happening surely? Perhaps not the full-scale change you’d like, but one or two signs at least.

Here’s a great little trick to use when your manager starts to act in the way you want.

It’s called “shaping” and is best illustrated with the following story.

Beverley disliked the way her boss Mark continually interrupted her when she was doing important jobs. She knew one of his pet hates was writing reports. So she offered to do one for him, making sure she did it when he was away at a management meeting.

Then she picked her moment. When Mark was with his boss, Beverley praised him to his boss for the way he let her get on with the report without interruption.

In turn Mark’s boss praised Mark. Who never dared interrupt Beverley again.

That’s shaping. The smart way to get your boss to do what you want.

6. Be the change you want to be

Unfortunately, there are cases where no amount of arguing or psychological trickery will get your boss to change his style.

Do you then give up?

No, of course you don’t.

What you do if they won’t change is…

…change yourself.

As Mahatma Gandhi said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

Simply behave as if your boss was already doing what you want. It may puzzle him at first, the way Gandhi puzzled the British Raj, but it’s a powerful thing to do.

So, you behave as if your boss had already empowered you. You take responsibility. And prove you’re up to it. You own what you do. You don’t wait to be told. You go that extra mile. You show commitment. You do a great job. You act as if you are your own boss…which, in a way, you are.

And in doing all this you end up at the final step, which is to…

7. Show you can be trusted

The key that unlocks empowerment is trust.

The problem is there’s not much of it around.

Professor John Whitney of Columbia University Business School reckons that half of all daily workplace exchanges have an element of mistrust in them.

It’s also a bit like the chicken and egg.

You can’t show you’re trustworthy until the boss gives you his trust. And he or she may be reluctant to trust you until you show you’re trustworthy.

But if you make the change yourself, you can break the stalemate.

That’s what my 14-year old daughter did on that late-night party.

She dressed in a way I would find acceptable. She told me who else would be at the party. She promised to ring in at set times… which she did… until I told her it was OK because… I now trusted her.

And she didn’t let me down… and hasn’t since.

I like to think that that night I grew up a little bit more than she did.

So that was the email I sent Megs.

Full of advice and stories and lots of hope.

Megs thanked me and life returned to normal.

I’d almost forgotten the episode when the next family gathering came around. This time a wedding. I eyeballed Megs and we signalled to meet later at the bar. When I got there, I started as ever: “How’s things? How’s the job?”

And this time, instead of the violent glass, she handed me a glass of champagne and grinned from ear to ear. “7, 6, 1, 2, 5, 4 and 3. In that order. Plus, my boss got promoted. And so did I.”

Copyright, ManageTrainLearn.com

Eric Garner is the MD of ManageTrainLearn, which started out as a management training company in 1996 and is now a leading innovator in the creation of e-learning products designed to help you become a better manager, better trainer and better learner. Visit the company's website to sample their fascinating free training resources, and learn about their innovative Delegation and Empowerment products. Sign up for their free 10-day Leadership Skills e-course by sending a blank email to leadership@freeautobot.com.


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