Wednesday, December 4, 2013

What Do You Really Know About Your Boss?

Why Should the Boss Listen to You?

As I have observed for several decades, why advisors fail to get the attention and ear of the bosses and leaders they are counseling, it is readily apparent that the vast majority of these internal advisors or external consultants know very little about bosses as people, as leaders, nor do they know the pattern of behavior of people at the top. I’ve often thought it quite arrogant for a staff person, whatever their discipline, to walk into a senior executive’s office, especially the top executive’s office, and offer advice on any subject and have very little knowledge, understanding or interest in who that person is and what they do. It’s the most frequent reason operating people ignore internal expertise and seek outside advice.

So, here are some questions for you to ponder:
  1. Why did your boss decide to become a leader or CEO?
  2. Who does your boss talk to and rely on? What does your boss believe in?
  3. When things get really bad, who does your boss turn to?
  4. Does your boss still play pinochle with his or her mom?
  5. Do you know how to help keep your boss from being fired?
In my recent book, Why Should the Boss Listen to You: The Seven Disciplines of the Trusted Strategic Advisor (Jossey-Bass 2008), I talk about the changing nature of the leadership environment and
the enormous new stresses bosses find themselves having to cope with and survive. You should know about these things and be able to talk about them. Here are just a few:
  • The average tenure of a CEO is declining – now estimated at 41 months. That’s barely time to find the bathroom, get something done, put a legacy in place before moving on.
  • The non-operational aspects of leadership are – literally – exploding. Angry workers, activist opposition, increasing regulation and oversight, and smaller mistakes are causing bigger and bigger problems; one or two dedicated opponents can cause enormous damage; and then there’s Sarbanes-Oxley.
  • Being a leader of an organization was once the pinnacle of an executive’s career. It’s now, more often than not, a temporary stop on the way to another career as a leader or in some other high-level capacity.
Can You Help Leaders from Failing or Being Fired?

Much of the work of a Trusted Strategic Advisor is helping bosses succeed by working against five of the most powerful reasons CEOs get fired:
  1. Failure to deliver on what the promised when they got the job.
  2. Excessive optimism. (CEOs are often their own best PR people.)
  3. People problems – Putting the wrong people in the wrong spots at the wrong time.
  4. Distractions – Too many outside activities, too many Board memberships, too many speeches.
  5. Stuck in the mud – The failure to make changes, progress, or something important happen.
How Do You Get to Know Your Boss Thoroughly and Well?

Here are four powerful techniques to begin to better relate to the decision makers you advise:
  1. Study leaders. Read biographies of famous attorneys, business people, military leaders, political leaders. Not only is it fascinating reading, but you’re going to learn how similar these people tend to be.
  2. Look for and understand the patterns of leadership behavior, from how they take information in, especially in adverse circumstances, to knowing the people their legacy relies on, including their parents, especially their mothers.
  3. Start having brief but important conversations with the leaders you advise about themselves, especially about the questions at the beginning of this blog and others that will come to you as you study leaders and leadership.
  4. Here’s a final question to consider: What do leaders study to become better leaders?
The answer is they study other leaders, all the time. Isn’t it time you started?

James E. Lukaszewski, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is the author of Lukaszewski on Crisis Communication, What Your CEO Needs to Know About Reputation Risk and Crisis Management, available now at

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