Your Job is to Make Your Boss Happy

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-11-04-20-amI was surprised to read in the Globe that Guy Laurence had been turfed as Roger’s CEO but I wasn’t surprised about why. Apparently he had a rocky relationship with the Rogers family who still have control of the company Ted Rogers built.

I had heard from people inside Rogers that he was doing some great work, work that changed fundamentally how they did business and served the customer but that work would take a while to pay off.

While he may have been doing good work he apparently had a brash style and was disrespectful in his dealings with certain members of the Rogers family. In the end, it didn’t matter how good a job he was doing, it only mattered how his bosses felt.

People, (and engineers), you really have to take this one to heart. It doesn’t matter how well you think you’re doing your job. If your boss isn’t happy then you’re toast.

It’s this emotional intelligence thing rearing its ugly head again. We can curse Maya Angelou for saying “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel” but we can’t get around it.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow, particularly for left-brained professionals but technical merit alone won’t help you get ahead at work. Having the right answer all the time doesn’t matter. Delivering expected results will only get you so far.

Ultimately, it only matters how your boss feels about your work. Yes, I know you have to deliver baseline results so you don’t get fired for being a complete write-off but beyond that, success doesn’t come from excellence, it comes from happiness, in this case, your boss’s.

Now I must confess that it took me over 30 years to learn this lesson myself and perhaps that’s why I haven’t had many bosses in my career.

So all of you lawyers, accountants, engineers, scientists and programmers out there, if you want a successful career, repeat after me: “My job is to make my boss happy.”

A New Definition of Success

I think I lost the plot for the last three months and after one of the busiest periods of my life, am finally getting back to having time to think. This got me wondering about the definition of success. It is one of those concepts that plague people and society has developed an elevated level of anxiety about success.

Am I successful because I’m busy, because I’m making money? Because I’m happy? Don’t look at me for an answer as I frequently grapple with the same question. Particularly so as I walk through my own neighbourhood, past $5 million houses that seem to capture today’s definition of success. (The one that amuses me most is the house where the owner bought the house next door and tore it down so that he could have a slightly bigger garage.)

Someone who has grappled successfully with the concept is Alain de Botton. I thought for a treat today, you might enjoy his TED Talk on the subject.

 Alain de Botton

Accountability vs Responsibility

Unknown-1A number of years ago I was talking with the president of a small company that was owned by a much larger entity. The president’s job was to produce healthy profits which would then be dividended up to the parent company. The parent company held him accountable for profits and based his bonus on those profits.

So far no problem in theory. The president though, was completely demotivated and while he was accountable for profits, he didn’t feel responsible for them. (Are you thinking perhaps that these two words are interchangeable? Well they’re not.)

The problem was that the finance team at the parent company took the liberty of charging the subsidiary company for all sorts of things over which the president had no control. They charged him arbitrary management fees, transaction fees, interest charges etc and the president had no input on what these fees were. (For those of you who are accountants we’re talking here about allocated costs. This is my inner accounting nerd coming out. The rest of you can fall asleep here.)

So the thing was that the president was accountable but had no control. As a result, he didn’t feel responsible for the numbers. He was made accountable but didn’t feel responsible so was demotivated.

If you don’t have control over your work you may be accountable for results without feeling responsible.

Accountability is about being liable, answerable.

Accountability is based on logic, responsibility is based on emotions.

You can be given accountability but you cannot be given responsibility, it can only be taken.

If in Doubt, Apologize

imagesWhen my son was small and was asked to apologize to his sister for some long forgotten transgression, he sighed deeply, scrunched up his face, turned red and blurted out “Sorry GaGa.” Now his sister’s name isn’t GaGa, that was just his way of mitigating the apology.

If you listen closely to many people’s apologies, they’ll say something like ” I’m sorry IF I offended you.” That’s the adult way of saying “Sorry GaGa.” The ‘If’ turns an outright apology to a conditional one and therein lies the problem. The apologizer (is this a word) is failing to accept full responsibility for his actions. (Please note that I have used the masculine form of his and hers because it is usually men who are wrong and who need to apologize.)

What we want is for an apologizer to acknowledge fault and fully accept responsibility. Accepting full responsibility defuses any situation immediately, takes the wind out of the sails of of the complainant.

The best thing to do is to live by the motto “If in doubt, apologize.” If you have the slightest concern that you may have something worthy of an apology then you probably do. You can even go one better and apologize ahead of time, knowing that you might need to build up apology credits to get out of the doghouse at some future date.

The Selfishness Conundrum

Unknown-1Think quickly. Is it better for your career to be selfish or to be selfless? Most leadership programs advocate selflessness and meeting the needs of your employees as a way to succeed but does that always work?

Does selfishness make you a better leader, taking the good work and leaving your team the scut work, taking credit when your team deserves it, taking way more compensation than your team members? You probably won’t have an engaged team if you do that but you might have advanced your career.

Or does the leader who fully engages a team by making sure they have good work to do, get the credit they deserve, and shares monetary rewards have a better career?

I think it comes down to short run versus long run. In the short run, if you’re going to be in a job for only a short time then it pays to be selfish. You can get quick results and jump to another job to do it again.

If you are in a particular job job for the long haul though then you’ll piss everyone off by being selfish and you’ll eventually have poor results and your career won’t advance.

Maybe this is the problem with large companies that move people around very quickly. Selfish people will succeed in the short run, become bosses, torment their employees, and then move up thus creating an executive filled with selfish people who engineer scandals such as at Enron, Worldcom, Nortel etc.


Power and Empathy

Unknown-2I was interested to read a piece of research done by the Centre for Creative Leadership on Empathy in the Workplace. Their white paper shows the results of research into performance and empathy. According to CCL, there is a direct link between performance at work and empathy. The more empathetic the leader, the better the performance.

What is surprising is that where workplaces are more traditional, with hierarchical power structures, empathy becomes even more important. That is to say that where leaders are expected to act in a powerful, paternalistic fashion, having empathy for followers is even more important than in more egalitarian organizations.

In our move from the industrial economy with paternalistic corporations to the knowledge economy with looser structure we may have lost our ability to empathize. In the past, the corporation cared for employees and that is now left to individual managers who may have never realized the important link between empathy and performance.