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Staying onboard

Managing your boss in the upturn

Leadership | January 2010

So youve coped with Dr Jekyll-Mr.Hyde in this past year when business was tough. Now that things are looking up, youre thinking why do I have to put up with this?. And youre looking for greener pastures elsewhere. But, when it comes to your next boss, will you know greener grass when you see it? What will you look for in a new manager? Is leaving the best option for you? Or can a deeper understanding of leadership help you get what you need from the boss youve got?
But before you take that big step into the unknown, lets look at some fundamentals of leadership. big picture and see their role as moving the team towards a shared vision. Because they believe that selling their long-term vision is the key to success, they will take time to explain the whys. To work successfully with an authoritative leader dont irritate them by trying to give them a vision. It doesnt work upwards. Authoritative leaders see scoping and conveying the big picture as their job; they certainly dont want, or expect, you to do the same thing. To impress an authoritative leader, reflect their vision back to them, confirming that you have understood it, and show what you will do to realize it. Such leaders usually lack attention to detail; its your job to see to the nuts and bolts and provide the reassurance that youre on the case.

A preferred leadership style that worked during a recession might fail miserably during an upturn

Hay Group has identified six leadership styles that apply all around the world authoritative, affiliative, coaching, coercive, democratic and pacesetting. There is no one best style of leadership each has its strengths and limitations and is appropriate to certain situations. For instance, the coercive approach is useful in getting an organization through the economic crisis, but will stifle initiative and innovation in the good times. The affiliative style is most suitable for dealing with emotional situations, like when employees are facing the worst consequences of cost-cutting. Effective leaders are adept at all six leadership styles and can switch from one to another, depending on the circumstances. But, typically, managers will default to the style they are most comfortable with, especially in times of crisis and stress. Hence, the Jekyll-Hyde syndrome you experience. And herein lies the rub a preferred leadership style that worked during a recession might fail miserably during an upturn. Now lets identify your managers style and how you can best work with them:

This leader is concerned about creating harmony and promoting friendly relations. He or she tends to avoid performance-related confrontations. Highly collaborative, this leader is most likely to ask how are you? and mean it. Leaders like this generate a lot of goodwill because they dont mind rolling up their sleeves and pitching in on the shop floor. However their need for harmony may get in the way of making tough decisions. So if there is bad news to be broken, dont make it personal. Try to use external sources of information like customer satisfaction or employee engagement surveys to help support your case.

Who is your boss?

This is the classic rock-star CEO. Virgins charismatic Richard Branson springs to mind. They paint the
2010 Hay Group. All rights reserved

Leadership | January 2010

Such a leader focuses on the long-term professional development of employees. He or she helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, encourages you to establish long-term goals and provides guidance and feedback on achieving them. If you are looking for a boss to help develop your career, this is a dream leader to work for. If you are just working for the pay cheque and are just looking for someone to tell you what to do, then this is not the boss for you. To work successfully with this leader, you will need to know what your career goals are and be able to take feedback in a positive spirit.

should happen next. The best way to annoy a democratic leader is to be overtly negative about the democratic process, for example by refusing outright to attend meetings or by participating reluctantly. So be aware of your own actions and body language and what they reveal. Manage your frustrations by remembering that life is complicated: things dont just happen because theyre the right things to do, or because a manager says so. Decisions turn into actions when others feel bought in, or because people like you contribute to making them work in practice.

Like it or not, the quality of the leadership you experience has a direct impact on how well you do your job.

Pacesetting leaders set high standards of excellence, are apprehensive about delegating and have little sympathy for poor performance. Usually leading by example, they will take away jobs if high performance is not forthcoming. However, what happens more often is that complex jobs are not delegated at all pacesetting leaders often assume that the best way to get them done quickly and to their satisfaction is to do it themselves. Margaret Thatcher and Steve Jobs are prime examples of pacesetting leaders. With such bosses, dont suggest that you need more meetings. Dont ask a lot of questions about why youre doing things and how they fit into the big picture. They expect you to have gotten the picture automatically. The key is to earn their trust quickly by turning in consistently excellent work. This is not a leader with whom you want to be modest so take on extra work to show that you are capable. But do be aware that working for a pacesetting leader can wreck havoc on work-life balance and lead to exhaustion and burn-out in the long run.

This type of leader needs no introductions weve all met them before. Intent on getting others to just do it the way I tell you they issue directives, rely on negative, corrective feedback and motivate by stating the negative consequences of non-compliance. This style is useful for getting teams and organizations out of a crisis situation. But if continued into the upturn, high-performers will walk out the door at the first opportunity. When working for such a leader, dont suggest different ways of doing things coercive leaders are looking for your obedience, not your ideas. And remember they are uncomfortable delegating tasks because they dont trust others to get it right, so start by proving that you can do exactly what is asked of you. Keep them in the loop throughout the process; double-check that you are delivering what they want, how they want it and when they want it. Consider it as micro-managing upwards. Once you have earned their trust you might have a little more freedom to do things your way.

A democratic leader focuses on building commitment and generating new ideas. They invite employees to develop directions for themselves and the company, so there are usually many meetings to gather and discuss employees views. If you are achievement-oriented, then working with such a boss can be intensely frustrating. All you really want is to be left alone to get things done, not attending meetings about what everyone thinks

About Hay Group

Hay Group is a global management consulting firm that works with leaders to transform strategy into reality and to help people and organizations realize their potential. Visit

Right situation, right style

Talking about managing your boss may sound an invitation to take part in corporate politicking. But, like it or not, the quality of the leadership you experience has a direct impact on how well you do your job. So, it is really about negotiating a win-win situation with your manager to the benefit of your career, your team and your organization. In the economic downturn, it is only natural to see more coercive and pacesetting styles of leadership as companies fight for survival. But before you start updating your resum, reflect on whether youve observed your boss using the right leadership style in the right context in the past. If he or she has, the chances are you are better off staying put. If not, it may be time to manage your career rather than your boss!

Choo Lai Lai Senior Consultant Hay Group e| t| +65 6323 1668

2010 Hay Group. All rights reserved