Hey Boss: The Conclusion
The more than 40 comments on my last post Hey Boss, What About Work-Life Balance? provide an interesting mix of views. Here are my thoughts on how to work effectively and build a relationship with someone like "Sebastian." This input comes from a position of advantage since I knew the real person.
The first key to building any effective relationship is to avoid stereotyping. Sebastian was a very effective, upwardly mobile manager with a focus on being promoted to the main board. Interestingly, most people liked him as well as respected him. It's just that he had a different life focus, which is not uncommon in successful senior executives.
The second key is to recognize that in every relationship there is a power dimension. How a manager like Sebastian would use his power is to an extent a generational issue. Many younger managers would see nothing wrong in you setting reasonable boundaries and procedures, as long as they understand their purpose. Managers with more experience are used to operating in a command and control environment are likely to react negatively to a "junior" pushing rules upwards.
The third key is mutuality. Team members need to understand what he or she needs from the relationship (support, resources, backing) but also what Sebastian needs from the relationship. Then, work to negotiate mutually beneficial outcomes that meet both sets of requirements.
For the team member discussed in the post, the requirement was time-related; Sebastian's requirements were not defined in the original post. However, by defining what's important to Sebastian, then linking your requirements to the achievement of his requirements, you can start to achieve real communication inside an effective relationship.
Finally if you wish to be taken seriously, you need to develop a reputation for credibility. Senior management needs to recognize that if you say something, it is backed up by facts, and if you commit to something, it is delivered. Credibility is earned by performance, but there is no harm in quietly making sure your performance is noticed in the right places.
In the end, relationships all depend on the situation. But mutuality and credibility are the two keys to advising upwards. If you are seen as a serious contributor to the organization's success and can link your needs to the needs of senior management, there's a high probability of achieving your desired outcome and benefiting the organization at the same time.
And they are going to drive the more talented resources away from the company, hurting themselves, their project and the company.
Managers must recognize that--even in tough economic times--their competition is willing to hire their top talent away from them.
And low morale among remaining employees is not a sign of Spring.
If Sebastian wants to work more than 12 hours a day on a consistent basis, that's fine; but he's more of a long-term threat to his executives' bonuses than he is to the folks unfortunate enough to work under him.
I used to be critical of the senior management who I stereotyped as "workaholics." Over time, I realized that your observation was true; that often it's a life choice to work more. It is a challenge when you are expected to work the same hours they do. However, like your Sebastian, I found our VP reasonable and balanced about the choices people in her organization made.
I also agree with the rest of your post about delivering consistently develops credibility and helps achieve that real communication. When I had that credibility, I was able to communicate effectively with my boss about the life choices I made about my work life balance.
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