Learn Your Boss So You Can Make Work-Life Easier for Both of You

Named by Inc. as one of the top 100 leadership speakers, Shelley Row, P.E., is an engineer and former government and association executive. Shelley’s leadership work focuses on developing insightful leaders who can see beyond the data.

Kimeka wants to see the big picture before discussing specifics.

Todd wants to advance in the organization.

Sergio is passionate about therapy animals.

Sarah grew up as an only child.

Adeline is new at the job and finding it stressful.

Each of these bosses will have a unique approach to leading his or her team. None of their natural styles are inherently wrong, but what would work with one team dynamic may be a disaster for another.

Chances are you don’t have much choice about who your boss is, and these days, you may have more than one (i.e. if you serve on a short-term project combining staff–and leadership–from various departments.) You can save time and frustration by giving serious consideration to the approach, topics and personal agendas of the bosses you interact with regularly.

Here are five areas to study about these leaders so that you can be more effective in your job. Let’s face it, a happy boss makes for happier days at work!

Communication Style  

Consider these descriptors. Which ones fit your boss the most? Adapt your approach accordingly by adding or reducing the amount of detail and strategically picking the time to present ideas to him or her.

Ex: Since Kimeka likes to see the big picture, reduce the amount of detailed information you provide her in one sitting.

Strategic vs tactical

Big picture thinker vs wants all the details

Visual learner vs auditory

Wants the story vs wants the data

Gets down to business vs chats first

Quick decision-maker vs need to ponder

Goal-focused vs relationship-focused

There are areas of interest that hold a special passion for your boss.


Power Position

Your boss’s power position will be a motivator in his behavior and decision-making.

Ex: Todd wants to advance his career in the company, so he will likely be more attuned to projects that get him some recognition.

Retiring vs aspiring

On the way up vs on the way out

Well-connected internally vs Isolated internally

Risk tolerant vs risk-averse

Promoting him/herself vs promoting the organization

Political aspirations vs no political aspirations

Well-connected externally vs isolated externally

Personal Interests

There are areas of interest that hold a special passion for your boss. Their “why” can range from an intellectual interest to a personal passion based on a traumatic event in their life (such as the death of a friend due to drunk driving).

Ex: Sergio loves therapy animals because he has a dog that is a big help to his special needs daughter.  This is the type of thing he likes to chat about.

Intellectual interest vs personal interest

Mild interest vs avid interest

Focused on leaving a legacy in this area vs nice to make an impact if feasible

Interest area is central to your mission vs interest area is tangential to the mission

Easy to accommodate their interest vs it’s a stretch to accommodate their interest

Personalities and Background 

What do you know about your boss’s personal history and career background? What experiences will have colored her perspective and how?

Ex: Growing up as an only child, Sarah learned how to manage things in her own way, but craves collaboration. Find ways to involve her and ask her advice.

Rural upbringing vs urban upbringing

Raised in the United States vs raised outside the United States

Large family vs only child

Prestigious educational background vs other educational backgrounds

Work experience in the private sector vs work experience in the public sector

Work experience in associations vs work experience in academia

Extensive leadership experience vs limited leadership experience

Their Headaches and Frustrations

How dialed in are you to your boss’s worries and concerns?

Ex: As a new manager, Adeline is concerned she will “make it” in the company. Look for ways to be an encouragement.

Issues with problematic staff vs issues with a tough boss

Problems with internal stakeholders vs problems with external stakeholders

Financial concerns vs    process concerns

Lacks trust from others vs feels like an outsider

Struggling to change the culture vs struggling to fit into the culture

Customer complaints    vs staff complaints

Dropping sales  vs staff attrition

Technology disruption vs managing change

Assess your boss using these five areas. See if you can walk away with a deeper understanding of what makes him or her tick, which will make your work life (and theirs!) easier!

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