Effective management requires discipline . . . but not necessarily the discipline you think – I’m talking about self-discipline. I’ve recently been doing a lot of Executive Coaching for Senior Managers and Directors and there is a common theme that frequently comes up . . . ‘ wanting some quality time with the boss. However, this is actually a double-edged sword.

Getting quality time with the boss requires a lot of self-discipline. You need to be really clear about your boss’s priorities, have empathy for their challenges and above all know how to make yourself easy to manage – this is where the self-discipline comes in.

If you want a happy boss you need a high level of self-awareness; this means knowing your strengths and your potential blind-spots. It is also helpful to be mindful of how the human brain works. The Neuroscience is now pretty clear, and it’s very simple – we are primarily motivated by both the desire for safety and pleasure and the avoidance of pain and loss of security.

You may be more motivated by one or the other of the above. It doesn’t matter which, as long as you are consciously aware of which it is, so you can adjust if you become blindly optimistic and complacent or pessimistically sceptical and stressed. What is your level of self-awareness?

You need just the right amount of stress to perform well. If there is an imbalance in either of the above motivations we can end up underperforming. If we feel so safe that we believe we are cocooned from danger, we can become lulled into inattentive complacency and our brain can miss opportunities to grow, improve and excel. This leads to unexpected unpleasant surprises and curve-balls that seem to come from nowhere. However, if we are chronically worried about our safety and constantly in fear of loss, our brain closes down into survival mode which produces a constant stress-response. This shuts down our Prefrontal Cortex where we do all our creative thinking and decision making. It also increases pessimism, creating a narrow focus on details and making accidental connections that have no bearing on reality.

What is the primary motivation of your boss? Are they more focused on achieving rewards or avoiding loss? What is your primary motivation? Does it match your boss’s and if not how can you adjust your language and behaviour so they trust that you understand them?

Business Owner mindset
Making yourself easy to manage requires a ‘Business Owner’ mindset. This means having something at stake. Something significant. Something that if you lost it, it would hurt. It also means keeping a clear reward in mind, again it needs to be something that is significant for you. This is not always money. It could be promotion, more resources to make your life easier, a more balanced life or just making a difference. Do you have the self-discipline to regularly review what you have at stake and what rewards you are striving for?

As anyone who regularly presents to Shareholders or Investors knows, there is no hiding place, you have to be accountable. Because, whether you like it or not, you are responsible. At a senior level you are expected to be accountable and if you make lame excuses or blame others you are simply demonstrating your lack of responsibility. I don’t know any Shareholders or Investors who are impressed with this sort of behaviour. Do you have the self-discipline to be accountable?

The three essential steps to making your Boss happy
Armed with self-awareness and robust self-discipline it is relatively simple to make your boss happy. The steps below are gleamed from hundreds of conversations with senior directors, MDs and CEOs who have discussed their concerns with me over the last 25 years.

1. Know their Priorities
What are the three most important priorities for your boss? What are the three things that you need to accomplish in order for them to achieve their priorities? If you are not crystal clear about these, the very first step is to demand an urgent meeting with them. If they say they are too busy to have this meeting you need to let them know that you can’t help them if you don’t know what is most important to them. Some bosses are so stressed that you need to be prepared to act very upset to get their attention. This could mean pretending to throw a tantrum and fling your toys out of the pram! In my experience this seems to work well in family-owned businesses. In fact if your boss doesn’t get how important this conversation is you are probably better off looking for a better one.

Once you know your boss’s priorities it becomes quite straightforward to identify your own priorities but it is always wise to check to ensure your boss agrees.

2. Have Empathy
It can be lonely being the boss and ironically there is often less support the higher up you go. On top of this, the higher you go the higher the stakes: Everyone wants a return on their investment!

How is your boss feeling? What are the greatest challenges they are facing? What is at stake for them? What do you need to be doing to help them avoid loss and experience their rewards? If we go back to the brain science, if your boss is under a lot of pressure you can expect them to be pessimistic, narrowly focussed and reactive. This means you need to be well-prepared, bring solutions not problems and present information and clear outcomes in a way that facilitates easy decision making.

3. Be Easy to Manage
The key to having a happy boss is to be easy to manage. This means taking the above into consideration and giving regular updates to demonstrate you are on top of things. You need to check the format that works best for them. Some people like a quick meeting, others an email with a set of bullet points or a phone call. Make some suggestions and agree an initial format to see how it goes. Then be very self-disciplined about keeping your agreed deadlines.

Most Directors want a variation of:
- What you have completed and how it relates to their priorities.
- Progress with specific priorities especially if there are delays or obstacles.
- Things where you are waiting for a response / decision from them, or where you are dependent on others for a contribution.

The idea is that it is simple and above all efficient. The update should be in a format that doesn’t take you longer that 15 mins to prepare. This simple reporting allows you to demonstrate your accountability and show that you are doing whatever it takes to ensure that you are achieving their priorities. If things are not on track wave a big red flag and have a number of suggestions about how things can be improved. Be prepared to adjust the format until you both agree on what works best.

You may also want to consider setting up a similar approach with your direct reports.

One of the first things I explore with new coaching clients is their level of self-awareness and their willingness to be self-disciplined and accountable. Once we have established their goals and aspirations we explore their strengths and potential blind-spots. This empowers them to fully utilise their strengths to make small adjustments and gain big wins by choosing more effective behaviour and getting better results. If you would like to increase you own self-awareness or explore how to get the best from your people please contact Gloria at admin@InspiredWorking.com and arrange a time to have a chat.

Remember, especially if you want to make your boss happy . . . stay curious!

With best regards,
David Klaasen

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