Working out how your boss thinks

Have you – of course you have, we all have – missed a promotion, been 1 of 95 applicants and reminded you’re dispensable, seen a company you believe you’ve helped survive carry on regardless after you’ve left?

Yes, yes and yes.

We like to feel important – we all do, I’m no different – but are we? I could become philosophical and say, cosmotically, yes. Actually, we only are within the construct the human race has built for itself – we structure work to give us something to do because otherwise, what do we do?

But, when an asteroid blows us all up and smashes the planet, will Facebook, the small baker, the sole trader – me! – Google, and so on, matter? Nope, we’ll be obliterated. As I say, cosmotic. But probably best left to physicists and theologians.

So, when you don’t get what you want at work, perhaps look at it from both yours and your boss’s viewpoint. That makes what we have here not necessarily follow a particular order. Simply ruminate………………………….You may be led nowhere, or towards why, how, where, etc.

It sounds vague, I know, but as an aside, consider – I genuinely don’t know where I got this from, but I’ve used it on the family for years (it’s not popular at the grandchildren’s’ birthdays!) – every single statement, question, thought, notion, any of us utters fits with “why?” Think about it. Come up with any statement you like where “Why?” can’t be asked in response. You can’t…….

The relevance? As I often say to clients, think outside the box (I can’t claim credit for coming up with that one). So:

How often do executives push their subordinates to spell out their goals clearly and specify their objectives? A creative subordinate will always be able to present a plausible and achievable goal when pressed, but in the early stages of a tough problem it is more helpful for executives to provide a receptive forum in which their people can play around with an issue, and experiment. Sometimes it will be necessary for executives to allow subordinates to act in the absence of goals to achieve a clearer comprehension of what is going on, and even at times to discover rather than achieve the organisation’s true goals.

All directors, executives and managers would like to accomplish more in less time. One of the implications of the process of mapping problems and issues is that when a leader addresses any particular problem, he or she calls a number of related problems or issues to mind at the same time. One by-product is that a business leader can attain economies of effort.

For example, when working on a problem of poor product quality, a business leader might see a connection between poor quality and an inadequate production control, and tackle both problems together. To address the issues, he or she could form a cross-functional task force involving the marketing executive, who understands customers’ tolerance for issues or failings. One reason for bringing them in might also be to prepare them for promotion in two or three years.

Leaders can facilitate the process of creating a problem network in many ways. They can ask their staff to list short- and long-term issues that they think need to be addressed, consolidate these lists, and spend some time together mapping the interrelationships. Or they can ask themselves how an issue fits into other nonproblematic aspects of the company or business unit. How does product quality relate to marketing strategy? To capital costs or R&D? To the new performance appraisal system? To their own career plans? Leaders and managers should never deal with problems in isolation. They should always ask themselves what additional related issues they should be aware of while dealing with the problem at hand. “Big picture”.

Some suggestions – as I say, ruminate, be selfish. Ask yourself, how can I adapt these processes to me within this organisation?

A number of suggestions on how executives can improve their thinking emerge from any study we might make of senior managers’ thought processes:

Bolster intuition with rational thinking. Recognise that good intuition requires hard work, study, periods of concentrated thought, and rehearsal.

Offset leanings to be logical by stressing the importance of values and preferences, of using imagination, and of acting with an incomplete picture of the situation.

Create skills at mapping an unfamiliar territory by, for example, generalising from facts and testing generalities by collecting more data.

Pay attention to the simple rules of thumb that you have developed over the years.

Don’t be afraid to act in the absence of complete understanding, but then appreciate the surprise that you will necessarily experience.

Spend time understanding what the problem or issue is.

Look for the connections among the diverse problems and issues facing you, to see their underlying relationships with each other. By working on one problem you can make progress on others.

Finally, recognise that your abilities to think are critical assets that you need to manage and develop in the same way that you handle other business assets.

Written by

Nigel Benson is a professional career sector specialist with over 12 years' experience writing executive level CVs and expertise in recruitment, job interviews and training.

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