Locating Leverage with Your Boss

ACTUAL CASE HISTORY: Sheree, Vice President – Business Development for a cable television consortium, was stymied. For four years running she’d been denied what she knew she had earned, time and again: promotion to Senior Vice President. She’d put in the extra hours, performed every task and project to near perfection, and had received the best possible performance ratings. Every time she raised the subject with her boss, Margaret, the response was always “Maybe next year.” Every time Sheree asked Margaret if she would go to bat for her on the promotion, Margaret said “There’s a very good chance.” Sheree never knew what that meant.

One thing that Sheree knew for sure: Margaret desperately needed to bring in new business partners, and that few major deals had been struck over the past years. Sheree, herself, was not tasked with bringing in major new accounts, but only with assisting Margaret in her bringing in the major accounts. She did her job, and better than anyone else could, but apparently not to Margaret’s satisfaction. She didn’t know what to do. After she consulted us, we suggested that Sheree change her focus from her “wants, needs and entitlements” to Margaret’s “wants, needs and entitlements.” “Sure,” we told Sheree, “you want, need and feel entitled to the promotion, but that won’t get you the promotion. Focus, instead on what Margaret “wants, needs and feels entitled to, and you’ll have a better chance of getting promoted.”

We didn’t hear from Sheree for a while, and didn’t know what, if anything, she was up to. It turns out that Sheree prepared a memo to Margaret about an upcoming cable association meeting, and how it represented an opportunity for Margaret (get that, Margaret, not Sheree) to present a talk about a new initiative in which local cable companies could, together, produce original programming. Sheree offered to get Margaret (get that, Margaret, not Sheree) a chance to speak on this topic, and from this to become the “pioneer” of a new kind of cable business. With Margaret’s eager approval, Sheree went right to work: she made arrangements for Margaret to be a featured presenter, put together a team to write Margaret’s speech, and prepared a “knock-out” video presentation to accompany the speech. Sheree also suggested to Margaret that a little “coaching” by a professional coaching consultant couldn’t hurt, either. Margaret readily agreed. The end result was a very significant success for Margaret, and the company: following the presentation, more new high-quality, highly profitable business cam in than was anyone imagined.

Incidentally – not coincidentally – six months later Sheree got the Senior Vice President promotion she had sought for years. When Margaret gave Sheree the good news, she commented, “How could I dare risk losing you?”

LESSON TO LEARN: What is the best way to approach your boss when you want something . . . Wait for a sunny day? Remind her about that golf outing when she drove the golf cart into the lake? Perhaps on bended knee? There has to be a better way, and there is, but most people don’t use it. Let’s be logical, and sensible, and smart.

Asking your boss for something – whether it’s a raise, or a bigger desk, or the day off next Thursday – is asking your boss to give you something that he or she is probably not inclined to give you. Either it’s a resource that could be used or applied elsewhere, or it’s an accommodation that everyone would like, or it’s an opportunity that could be granted to someone else. Whatever you ask your boss for, simple logic says it’s something that your boss has not given to you voluntarily, even though you have asked. So what’s going to change your boss’s mind this time? The word “motivation” is the first key to finding leverage with your boss. First you must understand that “motivation is the essence of negotiation.”

The second key to locating leverage with your boss is to momentarily forget about what you want. Put what you want on the “back burner,” just for the moment. Instead, focus on something that’s even more important than what you want: what your boss wants. Take a moment to try to see the world through your boss’s eyes, and try to figure out what your boss wants, needs and values. While traveling on your commuter train to work in the morning or maybe while you are walking your dog in the evening, consider for a moment about what seems to make your boss positively energized, what he or she seems intent on achieving, the kind of thing that seems to make your boss come in early or stay late. Simply, what is most important to your boss?

It might be achieving the department sales goal. It could be getting a new project off the ground and headed for success. Maybe it’s her own promotion to Chief Executive. Whatever those things are, that’s your ticket to getting what you want. Because what’s important to your boss is how you contribute to his or her goals. And think for a second moment: how do you contribute – in a daily, direct and distinct way – to your boss’s achievement of his or her goals.

Third and finally, ask yourself how you show your boss that you contribute to achievement of his or her goals. What steps, measures, gestures and ways do you “advertise, publicize and promote” the many and significant contributions you make to his or her success? In what ways do you foster your boss’s perception that you are critical to your boss’s success? It really does take conscious effort and deliberate steps to ensure that you become someone your boss sees as helping achieve his or her ends; the person who makes it easier for him or her to get what he or she wants. “Getting the boss where he or she wants to go, is the key to getting yourself where it is you want to go.” It’s that simple.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: Where do you find the potential leverage with your boss? That’s simple: in what your boss perceives to be of value to him or her. That is, your boss will be motivated by the things you do that advance or promote his or her interests, including personal, professional and all other interests. Your value or potential contribution to that advancement or promotion is the key. What motivates your boss? Perhaps it’s one or more of the following:

1. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help your boss have more time for his own work or play.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Consider offering to take over one or more of his chores or duties.

2. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help your boss have more control over her team, and how it functions.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Suggest ways that she could make her subordinates more directly accountable to her.

3. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help your boss have greater flexibility in his schedule.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Try making yourself more available to meet or talk to your boss on off-hours, during the evening, over weekends, or by telephone.

4. (a) Your boss’s Perception: You help your boss be more successful with his boss.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Propose positive ways that you believe his job duties and goals might be better achieved and how you can assist in that.

5. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help your boss appear better among upper management.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Give frank, honest feedback, along with positive suggestions, regarding others’ perceptions of her.

6. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help your boss develop and maintain Loyalty among her “troops.”
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Propose a staff lunch once a week to foster a sense of openness, mutual reliance, and group goals.

7 (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help keep her informed about all developments among subordinates, colleagues, superiors and industry competitors.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: You regularly send your boss emails about what you have heard, read or seen that you believe might be of interest or value to her.

8. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You always make sure he never misses meetings and deadlines.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception. Your keep track of his meetings and deadlines, send him reminders.

9. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You help by keeping an eye on ways to cut unnecessary costs.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: Once every month or so you have your administrative assistant check what hourly rate your department pays for temporary secretaries, and locate a company that would undercut that by 10% as an inducement to begin a new business relation, and present your boss with a simple analysis of the savings.

10. (a) Your Boss’s Perception: You are critical to prevention of problems, blowups and crises.
(b) Your Contribution to that Perception: You keep an eye out for potential problems, and take steps to “nip them in the bud,” keeping your boss informed of such matters by email, letting her attend to duties she considers of greater urgency.

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Get the picture? It isn’t fawning, slavery, being dishonest, or a snitch. It’s simply making sure your boss knows you are steadfastly on his or her side, and are critically valuable as a member of the team. The best leverage with a boss is his or her knowing that you handle critical functions, and you handle those functions efficiently and effectively.

The boss’s having more time, having more control, having greater flexibility, being more successful, or appearing better, may be supported, as well, by your developing greater sales, greater revenues, greater leads, or greater efficiencies, no matter what your primary function is. The point is this: Your boss’s perception of your critical value to him or her is always your greatest leverage.

We have a 7-Step Method to help you accomplish all you can for yourself; it’s called the QVP Method™. Its second step is to be and be seen as a “perception of value” to your boss. Be the person who covers the critical assignment. Be the person who is always ready to attack the difficult problem. Be the person who is available to discuss things on off-hours. These represent leverage personified, and it is the leverage you need to get the raises, promotions, bonuses, perq’s and other advantages you’ll probably be asking your boss for soon. To your boss, “leverage” is your “perception of value” to him or her, whatever “value” means to your particular boss. The examples above are near-universal; your boss is one particular person with his or her particular life and outlook.

Forget the begging, and don’t mention the golf cart story in public again. But do be perceptive, and do be proactive, and be smart. Be the greatest perception of the greatest value. That’s where you will always find leverage with your boss. And you’ll agree, I’m sure, when you become the boss, too.

Note: Nothing expressed in this material constitutes legal advice.