The Boss’s Widget
Not every boss will have a widget – a bit of management practice they feel they invented or perfected – but most will. These widgets can range from the way information is presented on a particular report, to the way meetings are conducted, to how employee reviews are scored. Widgets are often a tool that helped the boss out of a tough situation in the past, and are often (ususally) applied to anything and everything that remotely resembles that past situation, regardless of whether it is a good fit.
To a hammer, the whole world appears to be filled with nails.
It is absolutely critical for employees to identify the boss’s widget.
This isn’t because your particular boss’s widget represents the best of the best when it comes to management practices, and it isn’t necessarily because you want to suck up to the boss. Rather, recognizing those widgets will help you separate what you can change from what you can’t. When it comes to a prized widget, don't mess with it. You must accept it for what it is, and not attempt to improve it. Bosses have a pride in authorship that will inevitably be damaged by monkeying with their favorite invention.
Next, learn the widget. Become a student of it. You will be called upon repeatedly to use this widget, so you should become as proficient at it as is humanly possible. For extra credit, try to identify additional places where it can be applied.
And remember, criticism of the boss’s widget is equivalent to criticism of the boss. Though you may be tempted to do it – don’t. It will only cause you grief and trouble.
One of my boss’s had a monthly management review process that he’d crafted. While it didn’t necessarily help him out of a jam, he felt this widget had led to his eventual promotion, and needless to say, he was quite attached to it.
In my viewpoint, it was management 101 – nothing particularly special about it, not applicable to all situations, and improvable with tweaking to fit the situation. Unfortunately, was pretty vocal in this viewpoint -- open mouth, insert foot.
A peer, one who was a bit more politically savvy than I, applied this particular widget with an almost religious zeal. I once heard him explaining to the boss how much easier and more effective it made his management team, and what a wonderful invention it was.
Guess who was managing their boss more effectively? Guess who was (at that time) held in higher esteem? Guess who was number one on the succession chart?
That’s right, the guy who was, by adopting and complimenting the widget, indirectly flattering the boss.
In this example, things later evened out along other dimensions, but I learned a valuable lesson that day: you help yourself by faithfully implementing your boss’s widget, and harm yourself by criticizing or tinkering with it.
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS