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Five Steps To Teaching An Old Boss New Tricks

Mar 26, 2008
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but what about your boss? Can you alter and shape his or her behaviors? Not only is the answer yes, but it can be done quicker than you think.

Here's What You Can Do

If you want to alter your boss's behaviors, use these five proven steps to creating change.

Step One: Check yourself by asking, "Am I attempting to fix my boss - or build and develop her?" Most people use the "fix-it" approach when trying to change other people's behaviors. This communicates that a person has a flaw or failure, as if they're not complete. There aren't many people who respond well to such messages.

Are you truly interested in helping your boss succeed? (It's ironic: those people who answer 'no' ensure their own demise.) In your interactions do you communicate that you sincerely care about her?

When someone detects that we are an ally and not an enemy, when they detect that we think they've got strengths and we want to make them even stronger, they seek us out (rather than trying to get us out).

Step Two: Check the quality of your feedback. Most people focus on the behaviors they don't like in others. This only reinforces what we don't want!

Many people tell us that they can't compliment their bosses because people claim they are kissing something undesirable. This changes the moment two things happen: the acknowledgment moves to a one-on-one conversation and when it's sincere, specific and selective.

For example, the average person leaves a meeting complaining that their boss talks too much (see "backfire approaches" above). The person who can teach an old boss new tricks approaches their supervisor and sincerely states, "I want to thank you for that question you asked during our meeting. It got us all engaged around possible solutions."

Because your boss is human and goes toward his focus, the above acknowledgment sets a new course forward.

Step Three: Build a relationship with your boss. Does he have kids? Where does he like to travel? What are his interests outside of work? Teams are only as strong as the relationships amongst the team members - and your boss is a part of the team. Consider the possibility that your boss has his own limitations in developing strong relationships; take it upon yourself to help him by being proactive in building a stronger relationship.
Some criticize this as "schmoozing." But that's because there are many old dogs who were taught that you built relationships so you could get something. This is different: you're building relationships so you can give something.

Step Four: Separate the behaviors from the person - and approach your boss directly. People like straight talk - when it's delivered appropriately. Tell and ask her these or similar things:

* "Can I ask for your help with something? It's important to me that we have a strong team. Here's a behavior we can expand on..."

* "Here's where you've demonstrated this behavior... and here's the difference it makes..."

* "What can I do to help us develop this behavior even more?"

* "What role do you want to play?"

Using your own words to deliver the points above will assure sincerity - and a useful dialogue. And of course, the directness of your words will be largely influenced by your success in executing steps one through three.

Step Five: Focus! You've checked your desires: Are you trying to fix her or build her? You're acknowledging her when she is demonstrating strong leadership. And because you've developed a relationship of trust you can speak directly.

It's now time for continuous improvement. Somehow many people learned that if they're going to get other people to change, they're supposed to point out other people's spots, their flaws, and where they're weak. Imagine having a friend who always tells you how you've screwed up. He wouldn't be a friend for long. And while your boss doesn't have to be your friend, the same fundamentals apply; if you think and communicate that your boss is a screw-up, you're only going to screw-up one thing - results. Step five is this: consistently re-engage in steps one through four.

It took some time for your boss to learn the tricks and behaviors he has now. Give him time to learn some new behaviors - and consider that his success is determined by you.
About the Author
Stomp the Elephant in the Office employs the programs and concepts successfully implemented by Pathways to Leadership, Inc., formed by Steven Vannoy and Craig Ross. To find out how big the elephant in YOUR office is, visit Stomp the Elephant.
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