Unlike most of the other qualities demonstrated by my greatest boss, credibility is something that wasn’t inside of him. Credibility is a commodity granted by others.
Some of that “granting” came as a result of his other superlative qualities, things such as his ability to understand and develop strategy, his work ethic, his willingness to step in front of the bus rather than letting it run over his people, or even his willingness to take bold action – all characteristics I’ve discussed in previous posts.
But there was also an element credibility that came from his past accomplishments. My greatest boss had already once been a CEO during his career (he’d been fired from that job a short time after the company had been sold to a foreign-owned firm, one that just could seem to tolerate his “maverick” ways). Not only did he have the title, but the job was with a significant and respected competitor; one his peers in our firm grudgingly acknowledged was handled well during his tenure. This credential gave him… space. It generated automatic respect. It gave him leeway to operate.
I’ve often wondered if his reputation was an essential part of his success. Did he have to have it in order for some of his other great characteristics to shine through? Did he take more and bigger (but measured) risks because his credibility allowed him to get away with it? Was he able to give me more opportunities to fail because the impact on his own reputation would likely be less (was he Teflon-coated? Probably, at least to a degree.)?
There is no doubt my best boss had more freedom to act than the average manager based on his sterling reputation alone. And while he would have still been my greatest supervisor if he hadn’t had this credibility, it definitely enhanced his other skills and abilities.
When you have no “street cred…”
…you’re tentative. You can’t easily advance your strategies and ideas. You have a tough time defending your people. Almost everything is more difficult.
You can be a good boss, but probably not a great one.
Yes, really. Because there are a number of things you will won’t be able to do for your subordinates without solid credibility. Others you will be able to perform, but not with the same degree of success as a manager with high standing.
Career management assistance – much more effective if the boss’s judgment is trusted by those above her.
Taking bold actions – only possible if you can get the sign-off of your superiors. And, generally speaking, the more credibility, the greater the possible risks that can be undertaken.
Providing subordinates with chances to fail – pretty much only happens when the boss is “secure,” which also takes credibility.
That’s why I’ve often said: “If you want to work for a great boss, first look for one that has the confidence of his boss and those further up the ladder.”
While a boss still fighting to establish herself can be good, likely there will be some deficiencies – particularly when those things might put her fledgling reputation at risk.
The new line
Early in my career, I worked as an engineer on a new production line. My project was to use a camera to direct a robot to precisely pick up a product and place it in a fixture. While describing the objective is easy, there were quite a few technical hurdles to overcome for its successful implementation.
There was a backup plan, an expensive mechanical orientation system that we knew would certainly work, but would cost more, run slower, and take up a lot more floor space. When we reached a decision point and had to go one way or another, I hadn’t worked out all the problems with my approach.
But I was sure those issues could be solved.
My boss, one of my better ones, went with the mechanical system despite my confidence that I could make the robotic system work. He simply lacked the credibility to come through unscathed if there was a failure on my part. My approach was too risky – for him.
Had I been working for my greatest boss, I have little doubt he would have okayed the preferred approach, one that when successful would have been a nice boost to my career.
My first deal
While I’d worked on a couple of acquisitions prior to working for my best boss (in minor roles,) I’d never run the show. When my greatest boss asked me if I’d like to take the lead in negotiating one, I was eager to do so.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a big risk it was to put me in charge.
I found myself talking pricing and terms with the owner of the business, a man twice my age and with oodles more experience. I coordinated the contract drafting. I headed up the due diligence process. I even defined and coordinated (for a time) the integration of the company.
The experience was invaluable, but I can’t help but think that putting me in charge took a large leap of faith. My greatest boss, however, specialized in putting me in “learning situations” and this one turned into one the biggest in my career.
In hindsight, I realized he could only do this because he knew his credibility was rock solid with his boss and those higher in the company (the CEO). Those people accepted his judgment – even if he put a “kid” in charge of a small but important acquisition.
As it turned out, I didn’t screw up anything too badly (kudos to my boss for redirecting me a couple of times just before I was about to walk off the edge of a cliff) and the deal ended up successfully closing. Last time I checked, it appeared that it had been easily integrated into the mother ship and was performing well.
While a supervisor’s personal credibility doesn’t directly affect the boss-subordinate relationship, it definitely has an impact on how far a boss can go when working to develop an employee. Because of his substantial credibility, my greatest boss was able to take me further in my career faster than any boss I’ve had before or after.
While a boss can be “good” without credibility, to be truly “great” (from the subordinate’s perspective,) credibility granting the freedom to independently act is a necessity.
Other posts in the Greatest Boss Series (in Chronological Order):
- The Qualities that made my Best Boss “Great”
- Great Boss: Devoting Time, Building Trus
- Great Boss: Explaining Things
- Great Boss: The Big Picture
- Great Boss: A Chance to Fail
- Great Boss: Sharing the Trenches
- Great Boss: Key Insights
- Great Boss: Career Management
- Great Boss: Boldly Acting
- Great Boss: Working Hard
- Great Boss: Temper Regulation
- Great Boss: Taking the Heat
Posts in the “On the Way Out” Series (in Chronological Order):
- On the Way Out? Taking Mysterious Time Off
- On the Way Out? Vagueness
- On the Way Out? Changing Work Habits
- On the Way Out? Rumors
- On the Way Out? Emotions
- On the Way Out? Computer Activity
- On the Way Out? Stepping Back
- On the Way Out? Relationships
- On the Way Out? Complaining
- On the Way Out? Commute Fatigue
- On the Way Out? Getting Personal
- On the Way Out? Opportunity
- On the Way Out? Dissatisfaction
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Non-Fiction: NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS
This is the cover of one of my latest novels, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, released in April, 2014. This story marks the return of LEVERAGE characters Mark Carson and Cathy Chin, now going by the name of Matt and Sandy Lively and on the run from the FBI. The pair are working for a remote British Columbia lodge specializing in Corporate adventure/retreats for senior executives. When the Redhouse Consulting retreat goes horribly wrong, Matt finds himself pursuing kidnappers through the wilderness, while Sandy simultaneously tries to fend off an inquisitive police detective and an aggressive lodge owner.
My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.