Great Boss: Devoting Time, Building Trust

It doesn’t require deep insight to realize that managers suffer from a significant time deficit.  Bosses make demands, peers scheme, subordinates need direction.  As I’ve said in the past and will undoubtedly say again – the task of management is all about prioritizing and paying attention to the right things.

That’s why when a boss devotes the time and energy necessary to really get to know you she is giving you one of the greatest gifts she has to offer.

It is also why any subordinate receiving such attention should thank their lucky stars as to be so blessed.

The bad examples

A few of my bosses, I barely seemed to get to know – I call them the “too busy bosses”.  They would swoop into my office (or earlier in my career, to my desk), ask a few questions, and quickly be off to somewhere else (or onto another subject) before I could fully grasp what it is they wanted.  The relationship was formal, stuffy, impersonal, and cold.  I had little idea what made the boss tick, and could see he had little commitment to learning what made me tick, as well.

Another variation on the same theme was the boss who was so personally guarded that I only got to see his mask – known by me as “the façade boss.”  I only had one of these bosses, and he did spend considerably more time with me than the “too busy bosses,” but our time together was not really personally productive.  We’d spend our minutes talking about some obscure business problem, or making pointless small-talk – anything to avoid a deeper understanding of each other.

You see, it was obvious to me that “the façade” was not interested in opening himself up, and consequently, I was hesitant to open myself up, too – particularly when I discovered the long list of former subordinates that had nothing positive to say about him in the “trust” department.

I have a theory about “trust” in the business environment, one that is analogous to a miniature version of what we used to call “Mutually Assured Destruction” during the Cold War.  “Business Trust” is established through a progressive process of mutual disclosure.  We give a little and we get a little back.  A few (but certainly not all) of the disclosures can be a little embarrassing or even politically risky.  It is this give and take that leads to more openness in the business relationship, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to personal closeness, which requires a different kind of disclosure.

It’s hard to get very far with this “trust” thing if one person in the relationship only shows you his mask.

 This is the original cover of LEVERAGE.  I still have a few of these that can be purchased on the " Autograph " page

This is the original cover of LEVERAGE.  I still have a few of these that can be purchased on the "Autograph" page

You can imagine how uninspired I was by these bosses.  While I was plenty motivated to work hard on my own, I’m sure I was a pain in the backside to many of them.  Without some kind of a relationship at a personal level, I felt my own judgment on how things should be done (and why they should or shouldn’t be done) was every bit as good as that of my boss.  And I was plenty headstrong enough to often find myself working at cross purposes to my boss.

A “Great” boss.

My best boss invested time in me from the beginning.  At that point, he was a high-ranking VP (later a Group President), and I was a lowly manager, but that didn’t matter.  He spent hours with me.  He asked for my opinion.  He offered insights into how things were done at the company and how people thought.  He was interested in my life outside of the office.

In short, we established the give-and-take necessary for mutual trust right from the beginning.  I’m sure that at times he was secretly checking his watch and wondering when I would leave his office, but he definitely never made me feel that way.

Our best times together were lunches, when we could cast off the immediate burdens of whatever disaster might be unfolding on a particular day, and talk about the bigger picture.  Sometimes we talked sports.  Other times it was company strategy or the behaviors of those in powerful positions.  Occasionally, the subject was a problem or challenge I was personally facing.  Regardless of the subject, he was always respectful, interested, and always had time for me.

And all this time I felt like I was, in a personal sense, a full-fledged member of the team.  A valued person.  An equal.

Was I more inspired by my “Great” boss?  You bet I was!  I would have done almost anything he asked, not just because he would explain to me why he needed it done, but also because he became my friend.

While a few of these characteristics go beyond just the devotion of time, it all started there.  On the first day I met him, we were in the office kitchen pouring coffee and the pot ran out.  As the subordinate, I immediately jumped in to make a fresh pot, but he brushed me aside saying that he “…certainly wasn’t so important that HE couldn’t make the coffee for both of us.”  Later that same day, he invited me into his office to talk one-on-one about what he thought he should be doing in his job and how we might succeed in achieving those goals by working together.  He invited me!

That was the start of the best boss relationship of my life.

Posts in the Greatest Boss Series (in Chronological Order):

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If you are intrigued by the ideas presented in my blog posts, check out some of my other writing.

Novels:  LEVERAGE, INCENTIVIZE, DELIVERABLES, HEIR APPARENT, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, and EMPOWERED.

Non-Fiction:  NAVIGATING CORPORATE POLITICS

To the right is the cover of LEVERAGE.  This novel explores the theft of sensitive DOD designs from a Minneapolis Tech Company, and the dangers associated with digging too deeply into the surrounding mystery.  The tale features first level manager, Mark Carson, and the struggle he experiences as he finds the resources of the corporation aligned against him.  Its sequel, PURSUING OTHER OPPORTUNITIES, was released in May of 2014.  A third book in the series, OUTSOURCED, is in the works.

My novels are based on extensions of 27 years of personal experience as a senior manager in public corporations.