It takes a great deal of bravery to stand-up to out enemies, but even more to stand up to our bosses! Anonymous.
For ongoing career growth and momentum how your boss perceives you and the impression of their boss (your skip boss) about your abilities to show continued growth go a long way in how your actual growth manifests in your current role. Although these perceptions are shaped mostly by how you deliver on your assignments and how you take on critical initiatives that are important to not only these two gate-keepers of your career, but also to the company, overall, you still have the ability and the obligation to shape them to do justice to your own career growth and success.
Two recent examples of my clients stand out in stark contrast with typical perceptions bosses hold about their direct reports and especially of their star players. Both of these clients are super starsactually, rock starsin how they have delivered, consistently exceeding targets and even expectations. Both enjoy VP-level roles in highly branded technology companies and both have rapidly risen in their careers, often surpassing their male counterparts.
This topic is not about perceptions bosses hold just in connection with senior or executive-level team members that report to them; rather it is a about the pervasive misperception bosses hold about their direct reports despite stark evidence to the contrary about how these star players perform and deliver. It is also not about gender biases and discrimination. Rather, it is about boss-subordinate relationship based on misguided perceptions. Such super achievers suffer this indignity regardless of the level at which they are stationed: From individual contributors, to CTOs, to VP-level leaders, and everyone in-between.
What vitiates these star players contributions is how their bosses try to fit what they stand for in the prevailing paradigms of their organizations and how their own flawed and mistaken perspective can undermine avenues by which these star players can continue to add value to what is in the overall interest of the company. Their parochial view of what these stars should be focusing onrather than supporting them for a broader cause in what they dooften undermines their own leadership in how they are able to influence creating outcomes for the greater good of the company, their team, and the stars in question. Overall, it is a bad deal for everyone!
Let us take a concrete example: A senior player in a company that is growing at 20% Y-Y, even at its current double-digit billion-dollar ARR, is in need of more customer-friendly solutions that are well integrated for ease-of-use. The company also has myriad acquired products, not all integrated as a coherent solution, which has translated into a slowing growth rate, despite the fact that it still sustains that 20% CAGR. My client has made significant contributions in the companys recent releases that have integrated many disparate platforms and technologies to bring relevance and coherence to the companys oft-confusing offeringsmuch more still remains to be done.
A recent breakthrough in-house platform and solution that my client was yet again responsible for releasing on time and on target helped the company shore up some of its momentum back. This is the third time in succession that she has come through in a clutch and delivered to keep the companys growth rate on track.
Yet, despite this stellar success her boss decided to have a candid chat with her about her leadership gaps and how she needed to focus on these blind spots for her to continue on her growth path. In a recent conversation with her he made it clear that unless she ramped up her ability to dig deeper into the technical details of all the products she oversees and is able to show technical leadership in her work she may be limiting her future growth because the company puts a premium on technical horsepower.
My client is not in a product creation rolerather she is in an engineering leadership role where her team makes things that work together; things that either come through acquisitions or ones that are released by the development teams. (So, in a way, she is like that BASF spot on TV: We do not make better chemicals; we make better chemistry!). So, for her to study these solutions in details is not something that is productive for her to spend her time on when she can devote that time more productively on how these products come together as integrated solutions that customers love. Here the focus in not on component excellence, but on creating a total solution that is compelling and customer-friendly. Besides, digging into technical details of individual component solutions bores her! He further cautioned her that because of this limitation her future career opportunities might also limit her growth.
Disheartened by this chat with her boss, despite her stellar successes, we decided to brainstorm about how to counter this perception and to get her boss back on track for her ongoing growth. After some back-and-forth we came with a model of her leadership that clearly defined what her core strengths were and how working on them to further her growth would make her even more effective a leader to shepherd still-pending initiatives that were critical to the ongoing success of the company, especially in view of the fragmented product offerings that needed to be integrated and made meaningful and whole to the customers struggling with them.
In this argument we clearly presented to the boss how investing time understanding the technical details of the product was misguided because what mattered to the customersand the companywas how these products came together in a seamless way to deliver integrated customer solutions in a timely way, not how well each component was sub-optimized (a la the BASF way!).
In a follow-up meeting with her boss she presented this model with a cogent argument about how prioritizing execution of these myriad components was more valuable to the company than their individual optimization by understanding their guts. How getting these integrated solutions in customers hands was more important than merely tweaking their component parts. It took some time in this discussion for the boss to come to grips with this counter argument, but as the meeting progressed he saw the light in her argument and decided to elevate her role to give her a large initiative that afforded her the biggest yet opportunity (nearly tripling her team size) to attack this integration initiative. The thrust of the argument was: Customer is more important than the boss!
The thrust of the argument was: Customer is more important than the boss!
So, what are the lessons from this episode? Here is my take:
- When your boss takes a view of your capabilities that is counter to your own view and how that delivers value to the customers and your company, do not immediately despair and surrender yourself to their point of view or the course of action that your boss recommends.
- Take an objective view of what the boss is suggesting and calibrate that against your own successes and re-frame that suggestion in light of your achievements and core strengths. Showing how the customers, market, and the company will benefit from it more.
- Develop an argument that starts with the customer benefitand the company benefitand fortify that argument with some factual data that is impregnable.
- Develop a line of argument based on how pursuing a skill that is not your core strength would make you less effective in your ongoing role and would detract from delivering customer and company value.
- Just because your boss has a misguided view of your leadership strengths and wants you to apply them in a different direction do not plan to quit your job to find another one. Youll be carrying your burdens with you to the new job. Instead, learn how to re-establish your value by changing perceptions of what is important and what counts in the ultimate analysis. Learn how to marshal a winning point of view. And, win!
Not all bosses are receptive to their reports challenging their views and perceptions. But, unless you believe in your own value and learn how to articulate that, despite other views you will always have someone questioning what you really stand for!
Dilip has distinguished himself as LinkedIn’s #1 career coach from among a global pool of over 1,000 peers ever since LinkedIn started ranking them professionally (LinkedIn selected 23 categories of professionals for this ranking and published this ranking from 2006 until 2012). Having worked with over 6,000 clients from all walks of professions and having worked with nearly the entire spectrum of age groups—from high-school graduates about to enter college to those in their 70s, not knowing what to do with their retirement—Dilip has developed a unique approach to bringing meaning to their professional and personal lives. Dilip’s professional success lies in his ability to codify what he has learned in his own varied life (he has changed careers four times and is currently in his fifth) and from those of his clients, and to apply the essence of that learning to each coaching situation.
After getting his B.Tech. (Honors) from IIT-Bombay and Master’s in electrical engineering(MSEE) from Stanford University, Dilip worked at various organizations, starting as an individual contributor and then progressing to head an engineering organization of a division of a high-tech company, with $2B in sales, in California’s Silicon Valley. His current interest in coaching resulted from his career experiences spanning nearly four decades, at four very diverse organizations–and industries, including a major conglomerate in India, and from what it takes to re-invent oneself time and again, especially after a lay-off and with constraints that are beyond your control.
During the 45-plus years since his graduation, Dilip has reinvented himself time and again to explore new career horizons. When he left the corporate world, as head of engineering of a technology company, he started his own technology consulting business, helping high-tech and biotech companies streamline their product development processes. Dilip’s third career was working as a marketing consultant helping Fortune-500 companies dramatically improve their sales, based on a novel concept. It is during this work that Dilip realized that the greatest challenge most corporations face is available leadership resources and effectiveness; too many followers looking up to rudderless leadership.
Dilip then decided to work with corporations helping them understand the leadership process and how to increase leadership effectiveness at every level. Soon afterwards, when the job-market tanked in Silicon Valley in 2001, Dilip changed his career track yet again and decided to work initially with many high-tech refugees, who wanted expert guidance in their reinvention and reemployment. Quickly, Dilip expanded his practice to help professionals from all walks of life.
Now in his fifth career, Dilip works with professionals in the Silicon Valley and around the world helping with reinvention to get their dream jobs or vocations. As a career counselor and life coach, Dilip’s focus has been career transitions for professionals at all levels and engaging them in a purposeful pursuit. Working with them, he has developed many groundbreaking approaches to career transition that are now published in five books, his weekly blogs, and hundreds of articles. He has worked with those looking for a change in their careers–re-invention–and jobs at levels ranging from CEOs to hospital orderlies. He has developed numerous seminars and workshops to complement his individual coaching for helping others with making career and life transitions.
Dilip’s central theme in his practice is to help clients discover their latent genius and then build a value proposition around it to articulate a strong verbal brand.
Throughout this journey, Dilip has come up with many groundbreaking practices such as an Inductive Résumé and the Genius Extraction Tool. Dilip owns two patents, has two publications in the Harvard Business Review and has led a CEO roundtable for Chief Executive on Customer Loyalty. Both Amazon and B&N list numerous reviews on his five books. Dilip is also listed in Who’s Who, has appeared several times on CNN Headline News/Comcast Local Edition, as well as in the San Francisco Chronicle in its career columns. Dilip is a contributing writer to several publications. Dilip is a sought-after speaker at public and private forums on jobs, careers, leadership challenges, and how to be an effective leader.
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