3 steps to tell your boss what to do

By Scot Herrick | Job Performance

Feb 19

Wouldn’t it be great to tell your boss what to do? And not where to go, so get your mind off that approach; it doesn’t work.

Well, you can’t control what your boss does, but you can certainly influence your boss to get the decisions you want. Here’s three steps to getting your boss to do what you want to do:

1. Determine how your boss wants to make decisions

Most people don’t try and figure out how a manager makes decisions; they are simply pleased — or not — with the decision made. This fails across many levels, the worst being that you are always conflicting with how the boss wants to make a decision. And you can’t ask your boss how they want to make a decision, although that is a good starting point. Instead, you must observe how they really make decisions.

I had a manager once that told me I needed to “come into the office with suggestions for fixing problems, not just with the problem.” We’ve all heard that one before, right?

So I did. Every time I had a problem or a roadblock, I went in and asked for help, but offered two or three different ways to attack the problem. Then my review came and I got dinged for “having all the answers.” When I asked for clarification, he noted that I always walked into his office with answers. You know…..what he asked me to do.

After that, I stopped coming up with answers and just presented problems. You know what? He LOVED it. Now he could think through problems on his own, come up with masterful solutions and prove his managerial superiority by deciding on a solution!

Of course, his answer was always one of my answers — there are only so many ways to solve a problem and what you really need is an answer to which one to pick, but I digress. I had failed to see how he actually made decisions, not what he said about making decisions.

2. Match your managers decision style with what you want to do

You can see from the example above that it would now be easy to move my manager to the decision I wanted by contributing the right way during the conversation. Even though I went into his office not saying the solution I wanted doesn’t mean I didn’t have a direction that I preferred. I did and helped my manager come up with positive points about the stuff I wanted — and negative points about the direction he wanted. Subtle…

Or, I had another manager who never accepted an idea from anyone else. It had to have been invented here and here meant the inside of his head. I would make my suggestions and then move on, thinking all was lost.

After I did this a couple of times, my manager came up with this brilliant idea — the exact same one I had two months earlier. It was like enough time went by so that the idea could become his; he told me the idea with enthusiasm and I had the good judgment to not blatantly say that it was my idea. You get burned enough in a 30-year career to catch on to a few things, I guess.

Thus, once you know how your manager makes decisions, feed into the process. Know the decision you want and then use the manager’s decision-making style to get the decision you want.

3. Cubicle Warriors do not share this insight with their coworkers

There are two simple reasons why (and to not share comes off, somehow, as a bad thing…so overcome this). The first is that if your coworkers know this, they will try and execute the same process and fail. Second, someone will tell your manager this is what you are doing — and then all hell will break loose.

Simply, don’t tell.

Your manager has the most influence on your career right now

Because your manager has the most influence on your career right now, you need to work with your manager to get the results you need in your work. This all may sound like a formula to manipulate; perhaps it is. But business is social. In social situations, we need to know how people make decisions and we need to understand what influences that process. Just as a child tries to figure out how to get something from his or her parents — endlessly — we need to know how to influence what we need for our work.

There is no need to apologize for it; knowing how decisions are made in a social environment that involves your paycheck and making a living is a Cubicle Warrior job skill.

How do you get your boss to do what you want done?

  • christinelivingston says:

    Brilliant, Scot. I know you say at the end of this post that it may sound like a formula to manipulate, but that's not how I read it. What I see is you spelling out some ideas to help people allow themselves to be heard. And, since at times we need our boss to hear us, these are great skills to have.

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Any time you do a step-by-step to get yourself heard, it can look manipulative. The key here, as you note, is that you need to communicate well with the most important person influencing your career right now — you manager. How the decisions are made needs to be known in order to succeed in your job with your boss.

    Thanks, Christine!

  • Danny Brown says:

    Agree 100% with Christine, Scot – this is solid, manageable advice for working with your boss to benefit both of you. It's scary how many folks just go with the status quo because they either don't want to rock the boat, or feel they can't offer any value.

    Everyone has value to offer something, and it's very often these little nuggets that make the biggest sea changes. Knowing how to bring them to your boss's attention, as you lay out here, is a huge step in the right direction.

    Cheers fella (and great Headway design!). 🙂

  • Scot Herrick says:

    Thanks, Danny. A good point, too, that everyone has value to offer. In the communications process, that oft-times gets lost from either the manager not willing to listen or from the employee who doesn't think what they have to offer is worth anything. It is a dynamic to watch.

    (and upgraded, finally, to Headway 1.56 this weekend on Cube Rules…)

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