Building your own brand of success: Helping your boss succeed is an important first step

Posted on Written by Jerald F. Robinson

Jerald F. RobinsonSuccess in the marketplace is what your company wants. How does the company president show that this success is a goal?

Does your boss want to achieve success? Does your boss understand what is required to succeed? Do you want to be successful as a manager? How are most of these results achieved?

Perhaps this statement will help: A major component of your success in your company is to make your boss (more) successful.

If you look at myriad research studies (and books) on success, a key finding will emerge: More quickly is not always better. The business world in which you operate is relentlessly demanding. Some leader-managers tend to see the future as a frantic race. However, successful senior managers seem to see the world as a marathon and not as a sprint.

Disregarding politics here, one example of a marathon-oriented manager is the previous U.S. president. An example of a sprint-oriented senior manager is the current U.S. president.

The sprinter causes short-term impacts; the marathon leader builds excitement and success over a longer period and confronts barriers as the marathon proceeds. (Yes, you have heard the above previously, but it is crucial that you understand its significance.)

Assuming the marathon analogy is more appropriate for management (successful managers, at least), what are some things you can do to further your trek toward being more successful? The principles still hold, regardless of whether you work in a large manufacturing company or a small marina environment.

In most cases a manager is developing a portfolio of actions taken, not unlike that of a painter or fashion photographer. So what are some positive actions you can take to develop a strong portfolio for yourself?

As a manager you are responsible for seeing that certain business transactions are conducted properly. “Taking care of business” really suggests that you do everything you can to support and ensure the success of your boss. What? You don’t want to build your boss into a more successful leader? You probably should seek alternative employment. But what might you do better to support your boss?

What do you know about your boss? What locale does he or she hail from? Possible college major? Past work experience? Is your boss related to others in the company?

You need to get a feel for the person. A football player may think quite differently than a baseball player. Is there ever a goal in life that seems to move the boss along? This is all good background information to have under your belt.

Yet, first and foremost, be sure you well understand what your boss wants this work unit to look like and to be able to accomplish. What are his unstated goals for the work unit?

Be prepared to meet changing “looks” and changing goals, even on the spur of the moment. Any manager must confront the dynamic aspects of business competition and customer tastes. To do this well, be prepared to meet often with the boss; take every opportunity to search the boss’s thinking.

Another “must behavior” on your part is to let the boss know how the work of the department really is going. Is there a problem you are working on? Is there a problem you could really use your boss’s opinion on?

Never allow your boss to learn of a problem that you could have shared earlier. The boss must learn to trust you and know that you will be on his or her side.

What do you do if a manager of another department seeks your help with a problem that department is having? Routinely let your boss know about this encounter and what has come of it.

Did this assistance take excessive time from your own department oversight? Your boss will want to know this. Do nothing that will damage the trust your boss has in your loyalty to your immediate department and your ability to carry out his desires for his department.

Jack Welch, the former and famous CEO of General Electric, always asked managers whether they acted any differently when he was away. Did their assistants deal any differently when their bosses were away? The answer must always be no.

Different behaviors would suggest a lack of loyalty and low commitment to the department or company standards. But what if you believe there are better ways of operating the department? What should you do?

If you move to implement new approaches just to prove yourself, you may well be viewed as a hotshot. When the new ways do not work or create negative reaction from anyone, the boss will learn quickly what you have done and may well have cause to question any trust in you.

You will learn to anticipate the boss’s thinking and decisions. Unless you are being told something in confidence, be generous in sharing the information. The fact that you will seem to have the ear of the “big boss” means you will earn greater credibility in dealing with your own work group. They will learn to trust you and know that you are aware of where the company and your department are headed.

Earlier it was noted that you should keep the boss apprised of not only the good things that happen, but also those that are not so good. A boss never appreciates a surprise.

Realizing this, it is important that you prepare the boss for any report he must give or any talk he must give to your work group or to his own bosses. Make sure his data are up to date and that his observations will not raise new issues.

Your boss wants a feeling of confidence in whatever he does. He wants to feel competent in whatever he does. It is your job to be sure he has what it takes to feel confident and competent.

A leader assisting a senior leader must become a strategic asset to the boss. The boss does not always know that he or she needs you. You may rarely be asked for your opinion or assistance.

To be able to offer assistance you need to make an honest appraisal of the business landscape today and what it is likely to look like five to 10 years down the road. What is the outlook for U.S. business generally in the next five years?

Much discussion of the trends can be found in Business Week, Fortune and the Wall Street Journal. Start reading such business publications with a renewed interest. Whether you like particular local, state or national elected officials or not, their statements and their voting behavior can have a major impact on the business landscape downstream.

For example, what effect will the ongoing discussion of “reforming” the national tax policy have on business generally, and especially on a maritime business firm? Changes may affect the consumer’s ability to purchase and at the same time offer possible larger after-tax profits for the company.

What discussions could you have with your boss to become a strategic asset in this area? Yes, being a lifelong learner is critical to being a manager.

Lastly, here is a delicate way that you can promote your boss’s own interests: Don’t hesitate to tell the boss that he or she is wrong. If you have listened carefully to the progression of suggestions here, you will not reject this suggestion so quickly.

Although no two circumstances with bosses are the same, one thing is constant: the openness and honesty you need to have with your boss when that person is not correct or is not using proper judgment.

If you are able to tactfully explain to your boss what is right and/or needs to be done differently, that boss is likely to respect you and your opinion more than if you had said nothing.

In total, building a brand and building a reputation are part of what you should do for your boss. You will be a beneficiary and enjoy the job more. Now how you get all this done will take some self-reflection on what action steps to take.

Consider two steps that are needed to precede others: First, identify all you know about your boss’s background, experiences and successes. Begin to get a better understanding of what the business landscape will be in five to 10 years, and especially for the maritime industry and your company. That will get you headed in the right direction. Let me hear about your challenges and interactions leading to success.

Jerald F. Robinson, Ph.D., is professor emeritus, international management, at the Pamplin College of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va. He can be reached at (540) 449-5870 or by e-mail: JFR@vt.edu.

This article originally appeared in the July 2017 issue.

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