By Raleigh F. Seay Jr., Ph.D.

9/25/2009 - “Boss” is a strong word. Back in Those Thrilling Days of Yesteryear, I would sometimes hear folks refer to a “Straw Boss,” who is a kind of crew leader or lead person, and in the old Gene Autry and Roy Rogers movies, we sometimes heard of a “Trail Boss,” the tough guy was in charge of all the cowboys and trail hands. If you like traditional American music, Doc Watson sings and picks a fine old John Henry kind of song called “Walkin’ Boss,” about laying steel rails and cross ties to build a cross country railroad. And who among us (at least of a certain age . . .) can forget Jimmy Reed, the great blues guitarist of the 1960’s, and his song, “Big Boss Man (Can’t you hear me when I call . . .You ain’t so tough, you just tall, that’s all).” So in business today, whether we refer to the person in charge as the Boss, Supervisor, Branch Manager, Department Head, Mister or Ma’am, we know that our primary job is to please the Boss, and we know that your own work lives will be much easier, happier and more profitable if we are successful. And, to the contrary, if the Boss is unhappy, there’s a fairly high likelihood that you will be unhappy, also. Someone once told me about the “Two Rules of Boss Management” . . .

1. The Boss is always right.

2. If the Boss is wrong, refer to rule #1.

Toward that end, here are some suggestions to help you create a Happy Boss, extracted from lots of reading and research but, more importantly, from 40 years of Boss Management discussions with some of the Best Bosses America has to offer, and at the pinnacle of that tower would be Joe Shearouse, the co-founder and President of Fidelity Federal Savings Bank, now retired. Joe was the very best.

1. Listen – The Boss should be able to imply and we should consider it an order. For example, if the Boss says, “I would like for thus and so to happen,” you should consider that as a directive and do what is necessary to make it happen. You must listen carefully to what he or she says as well as what is implied; otherwise, we can be so busy thinking of a reply that we don’t listen clearly to what the Boss is saying. Listening is one of the four basic communications skills – reading, speaking and writing are the others. It is a learned skill in which only a few of us have had formal training so we often tend to discount its importance. Communications experts tell us that we can listen much faster than a speaker can talk. For example, you can speak at the rate of about 125 words per minute, but you can listen at about 700 words per minute. This can account for “day dreaming” and “jumping to conclusions.” As you listen, be careful not to interrupt the Boss as he or she is talking. This irritates the Boss, is impolite and sends a negative message to others. As you listen, create eye contact with your Boss, always have a pen and tablet with you, take notes and ask questions. Every time you ask a question, you show how smart you are while failing to ask a question can produce the opposite result. Bosses like people that don’t have to be told things twice and if the Boss has the sense that you are listening and paying close attention, you will have a happier Boss.

2. Be Concise -- Time is management’s most precious resource because it’s limited and once it’s gone, it cannot be retrieved. “Time, O good, good Time, where have you gone,” the BJ’s sing. When meeting with your Boss for whatever reason, be brief to the extent that you can. As Polonius tells us, “Brevity is the soul of wit.” Be clear, not fancy, and utilize economy of words in spoken and written communications. Be direct but diplomatic, particularly when communicating by email. Experts tell us that we should take as much care with an email as we would do with a letter, in terms of tone, grammar and good writing skills, such as using complete sentences instead of short phrases. An email that is too short can be understood as brusque by the receiving party, so we should strive to reach a good balance of clarity and diplomacy. In the age of electronic communications, we have fewer written communications, but when they are necessary, limit them one page if you can. During the workweek, your Boss needs to know where you are and what you are doing – a short email will suffice. Your Boss will not know if you don’t tell him or her, or the story may come from someone else who may not have your best interests in mind. Be consistent in letting the Boss know where you are and what you are doing and be sure to tell the Boss what your accomplishments are.

3. Be Diplomatic – In presenting facts where a decision is required, present the information so that the point you wish to make is obvious, without being dogmatic about it. If possible, let the Boss express all or part of the solution as his or her idea. Often, a good approach is to offer several options in which you would present a list of possibilities including the pros and cons and allow the Boss to choose. In a meeting or discussion, never reject a Boss’s idea out of hand and in front of others – after all, the Boss thinks it’s a good idea, or he wouldn't mention it in the first place. Experts tell is that one of the foremost characteristics of successful people is supreme self confidence, which sometimes can come across as an Ego. There is nothing wrong with an Ego, standing alone and understood properly. Most of us like to work for people who are self confident and have a good, well balanced self image. Good Boss Management tells us to accept cheerfully your Boss’s Ego and give it the proper nurture and feeding. For example, I am reliably told that every person has an invisible sign streaming across his or her forehead. The sign says, “MMFI,” which being translated means, “Make Me Feel Important.” All of us want to feel important to others and, to paraphrase an American humorist, the Boss is no different, except more so . . . . If you object to something the Boss has said, or if you have a different opinion, it’s often a good idea present your objections as questions. For example, “What do you think of this possibility?” “Is this other idea a possible alternative?” And when bad news crops up, as it inevitably will, don’t ever be afraid to tell bad news to the Boss quickly. My friend Dave Thomas, who held a key position in management for many years, declares. “Bad news doesn’t age well.” I have often thought of Dr. Kissinger’s comment, “If something is to be revealed, it must be revealed early.” A Boss who discovers bad news on his own is an unhappy Boss. If you find you are going to miss a deadline or something is going south, let your Boss know as soon as possible. He or she may be annoyed but will be less annoyed now than later. 4. Solve Your Own Problems – Bosses like people who solve their own problems. Bosses have poor opinions of people who present problems and ask the Boss to solve them so it’s usually not a good idea to go to the boss for answers unless you have come to a stone wall and do not know where else to go. Present the problems with your recommended solutions and ask for any additional ideas he or she may have. What we must avoid at all costs is giving the Boss the idea that we are unable to solve our own problems.

5. Make Your Boss Look Good -- This principle is the epicenter of good Boss management. If you are in a meeting situation, be sure the Boss has all of the facts in advance and let the Boss do the talking and receive the attention. Coach Landry once said, “It’s amazing what a person can accomplish when it doesn’t matter who gets the credit.” So, if you let the Boss take credit for the work or ideas that come from you or your department, there’s a good chance that he or she will look after you down the road. When your Boss looks good, you look good. A good Boss will recognize this principle and return serve to you with attention and recognition of your achievement and accomplishment. A good Boss knows that if his or her employees look good, this makes the Boss look really good.

6. Accentuate The Positive – “You’ve got to accentuate the positive, Eliminate the negative, Latch on to the affirmative, Don’t mess with Mr. Inbetween.” I wonder if Johnny Mercer knew back in 1940 that he was writing such good management advice. Successful managers are almost always positive thinkers and most Bosses detest negativism in any form. Zig Ziglar tells us that positive thinkers can’t do everything, but positive thinkers will always do better than negative thinkers. As Henry Ford once remarked, “Whether you think you can or whether you think you can’t – you’re right.” Bosses hate complainers so we should make it an absolute rule – never complain. Never. The Boss may have pressures we don’t know about so always keep things positive and upbeat. This makes for a happy Boss.

7. Don’t Stay Late, Come In Early – While each of us has a particular working style, it’s usually best to come in early rather than staying late in the day. In my early consulting years in Virginia, one of our very good consultants had a habit of coming in to work around 10:00 o’clock in the morning and staying at work until 7 or 8 at night. This was his style and he was very good at it, but our Boss was always irritated at him about it, even though the quality of his work was excellent. I’m sure it affected his career. Coming in early says, “I'm eager and interested.” Coming in late may say to the Boss, “I have other things to do that are more important than my work.” Mary Hayworth, a long time and successful Human Resources Manager in the financial industry, is up to meet the day by 5:00 o’clock each morning. When someone in a workshop setting once remarked that 6:30 was a good time to arise, Mary responded, “Good grief – half the day is gone by then!”

8. Keep Your Promises – If you tell the Boss that you are going to do something at a certain time, then you have to do it, otherwise your Boss will come to think of you as undependable. Your Boss needs to know that you are you are completely dependable and reliable, no matter what the circumstances. This virtue is solid gold currency for a Boss because it is so valuable and so rare. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and most Bosses will adjust to their subordinates’ shortcomings as long as their strengths outweigh them. What Bosses cannot adjust to – what is a killer for all of us -- is uncertainty. Most people are not afraid of challenge or change, if they know about it ahead of time and are able to get ready. Most of us can handle tough times if we know what they are. But the unknown is a different story and can instill fear in the most stouthearted of persons. This same principle applies to Boss Management. Your Boss needs to know that if you say you will do something, he or she can take that to the bank.

9. Know Your Boss – When Francis Bacon wrote that “Knowledge is power,” he must have known that this principle applies to Boss Management as well. To get along with your Boss, you should learn the Boss’s background, company history, work habits, working style, career goals, likes and dislikes. One of the best ways to get this kind of information is through the DISC profile. The DISC is a measure of a person’s working style in terms of Dominance, Interpersonal Skills, Stability and Compliance. It also measures how we see ourselves, how we change under the normal pressures of work and our normal and preferred working style. From a Boss Management standpoint, that information is vital! We recommend that every manager take the DISC profile as a team building exercise but it is particularly important for the Boss. If you are the Boss, we recommend it for you first. It promotes understanding in a powerful way, is enjoyable and helps promote teamwork and build camaraderie among the management group. For example, is your Boss a detail person, does your Boss like to tell stories and anecdotes, or would he or she prefer for you to get right down to the proverbial Bottom Line? If you need to meet with the Boss, is one time of day better than another? The DISC can tell you and help you in your efforts to please the Boss with your work.

10. Have A Good Relationship But Don’t Get Too Close – I don’t want to push this envelope too far because a good deal of it is determined by the size of the organization, the personality temperament of the Boss, society and culture and a variety of other factors. Some organizations have a strict hierarchy where the lines of demarcation are clearly drawn. Others have a less structured, more informal working environment. Some Bosses like warmth and friendliness and first names, others are more aloof, and a good many Bosses fall somewhere in the middle. When I was in the Army back in the Dark Ages, there was an understanding in the Officer Corps that a subordinate called his Boss by his rank (Col. Turner), while the superior could refer to his subordinates by first name (Sandy). Our society is becoming more casual now (some would say less proper) so, initially, it’s best to refer to your Boss by title – Mr., Ms., Dr., etc. – until her or she tells you differently. For the most part, it’s a good idea not to get involved with your Boss’s personal life as this can be Trouble waiting to happen. Confidences may be exchanged and later regretted by both parties and it may foster mistrust or suspicion among co-workers.

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance that you’re multi-tasking – on the one hand, you work for a Boss; on the other hand, you probably are a Boss, and these principles will help you achieve success in both categories. I’m sure that there are many more suggestions for Good Boss Management and we would love to hear what you have to say, so please drop us an email ( with your thoughts. In the meantime, if you have if you have questions about Boss Management or any other Human Resources Management issue, we would be delighted to talk with you. We appreciate having you as a client and friend of our firm.

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