I’ve been in the workforce for over a couple of decades now and have worked for a lot of different bosses. Some were great and others, not so great. I didn’t figure out until about six or seven years ago that your boss is not your enemy. I mean that, really. I know that there are people reading this right now that would beg to differ, but the truth of the matter is, bosses are people too and the vast majority of them want to do a good job. So why do a significant number of us end up hating or at least develop a strong dislike for our bosses? There are a lot of different factors involved here and I admit most are based on my opinions and my observations, so bear with me.
The “haves” and “have nots”, that’s what Marx was talking about with the proletariats and the bourgeoisie. Without going into a lot of detail about Marxism and the social economic theory behind it, I’ll just grossly paraphrase it into a work environment social order. The bourgeoisie are those with the authority, power, and prestige and of course money, to stay in control, i.e. bosses. The proletariats are all those without all of the above mentioned assets. Those in control want to stay in control and those without, want to gain it. I’m sure you have heard or even said, “If I was in charge, I would do blah”. That’s us, the worker bees trying to assert control. The only reason that there isn’t a coup d’état is because we’re civilized and civilized people follow rules. The main rule that applies here of course is that you work your way to the top. We follow that one rule religiously, both the bosses and the workers.
So how do you work your way to the top? You need to be wealthy. Wealth in the work environment is not about having a lot of money. I’m sure there are people out there that got their jobs by having a lot of money, but that’s a small minority. What you need are talent, skills, knowledge, intelligence, motivation and throw in some common sense and people skills. Talent and having an aptitude is great, but it will only take you so far. So you’re talented, what are you going to do with it? I happen to be very talented in baking and pastry making, but that’s not what I do for a career. My skills are self taught and they wouldn’t take me far in the culinary world. I also lack credentials, i.e. formalized knowledge and I lack the motivation to make it my choice of career. Having good skills means that you do something well. I also happen to have a knack for numbers, hence my career in finance. That means that I’ve always done well in math and math oriented education. I took that affinity for numbers, gained knowledge and credentials through school, and then learned to become very skilled at it. Intelligence is your ability to learn, adapt and reason. Motivation is the biggest currency there is. Without the desire to do something, be something, or be somewhere, all those other currencies are a moot point. The currency you need to work your way up is actually more difficult to earn than money.
Your boss is wealthy in one of the major currencies at work. You may not recognize it or see it, but someone else in the organization has and that’s how your boss became your boss. To move up and earn respect, you need to prove your wealth in one of the major currencies. It’s more likely that your boss will recognize good work if it is similar to what he or she also specializes in. That’s because your boss already knows the value of their area of specialization. It is human nature to place higher value on something he or she already has because they pursued those skills for a reason. Charles Caleb Colton quote is apt, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”.
In any good organization, your boss is rated on how good a job they do. As part of that job, they need to prove that they are good at being a boss. That means they manage their employees well. You need to be able to motivate employees to do their job well. You need to know when and how to approach issues. You need to balance the needs of the employees with the needs of the company. That last one, balancing between the needs of the two groups is one of the more difficult aspects of being a boss. Your boss was once in the same place you are now. They know and remember what it was like to work for someone. When your boss discusses with you something that you did wrong or make a correction to something that you produced, they are not trying to “put you down”, they are trying to help you. Your job as an employee is to learn from your mistakes. The boss’s job is to point them out to you and not to berate you. This is good for the company, good for your development, and also good for the boss. If you do your job well, your boss also looks good. Managing employees is actually a pretty tough job.
Your boss is a human being and humans make mistakes. Contrary to popular myth, bosses don’t know everything. It’s your job to help your boss too. If he is a bad boss or exhibiting behavior that is bad, it is OK to point that out. Of course you need to do this tactfully and take into account that your boss has feelings too. Chances are, they will reciprocate your behavior and raise their respect for you.
By Keiko Hammond