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Coaching Your Boss To Be A Better Managerleader

Contributed by : Dilip Saraf

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Studies of employee behaviors have shown that a majority of them is barely engaged or not engaged in their job. The recent Gallop poll (Q12) involved 49,928 businesses, 1.4 million employees, 192 organizations, across 49 industries, and in 34 countries makes clear that only about 30% employees are engaged in their work, 20% are disengaged ("walking zombies"). The middle 50% get by with marginal engagement ("order takers"). Since managers are also part of this sample it is fair to assume that the same percentages apply to them in how they engage in their work, and in turn engage those who report to them.

I have many clients, who come to me because they are frustrated with their managers. When I look at their work, many are stellar performers and often excel at what they do. This is more true with individual contributors and first-level managers, where they have not matured their leadership development with the intricacies of organizational politics. As a result they often fall out of grace with their mangers because of their vocal objections to what their manager is doing and how they are treated. What makes it difficult for these conscientious employees is that their managers are excellent at managing upwards and at looking good.

In the case of one client, who has consistently been rated as exceptional in his last five performance reviews, his manager (same manager who gave all the reviews!) suddenly started giving him grief. When I explored further I found out that my client started rebelling against his manager, first covertly, and then overtly, by refusing to attend useless meetings that the manager frequently called. My client made a simple request of his manger: provide meeting agenda before the meeting, so that we know if that agenda was already covered or if it can be addressed without having to convene a meeting involving 8-10 people, many of whom would have nothing to add in such a meeting ("they sit there doing emails."). His manager reacted to this request by labeling him as not a team player and setting a bad example for others in his own team and in the circles of others, who reported to the same manager. The manager has become increasingly distant in his interactions with my client over the past few months.

In my coaching session when I asked how he communicated this objection to his manager what became clear was that the language in which he raised his objections to his manager"s style needed much work. Being an immigrant he was not facile with his English. Being culturally imprinted differently further exacerbated his communication abilities to persuasively convey to the manager of the importance of running efficient and effective meetings. When I coached him to use a different way to persuade his manager, using different words and tone, he realized the errant ways in which he had gone about the change and hurt himself in the process.

I am not suggesting that all difficult managers can be persuaded to change their minds with the use of better language, but assertive communication has much influence in how your ideas are received and acted on. So, here are my suggestions for coaching your manager to improve her leadership style:

  1. Find out what behaviors of your manager are most objectionable and evaluate if this pattern of behaviors is consistent across all their direct reports or is isolated to their interactions only with you.
  2. If it is a pattern then it is a good idea to check with your peers and see if there is a way for a few of you to figure out a constructive way to communicate to the manager what changes would help in making that manager a better leader and manager.
  3. From your peers find one person who has good communication, influencing, and persuasion skills to identify one or two of the most objectionable behaviors that you want changed. If you go for a longer list you may get nothing, as most managers perceive that they are "perfect."
  4. Once the initial conversation has taken place with the right person broaching the subject with the manager, try and see if that person can also ask the manager to check with others (in his peer group) for their inputs. A curious (or insecure) manager may go around to check on this anyway.
  5. Be specific about the change you want your manager to implement. As soon as the change becomes visible provide feedback to the manager and give them factual inputs about how things have improved since they have embraced the change. Thank them for listening and acting positively.

What most want from their managers is the right treatment of those who report to them, not perfection. So, find out what behaviors are giving you grief and make a plan to communicate to your manager the changes that would make them a better manager/leader and you a better employee, in turn!

Good luck!


About Author
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.

After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.

During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.

Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.

Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.

Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.

Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.



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