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Managing Your Boss

Here are links to the previous issues of Point Lookout that touch on your relationship with your boss. Bookmark this page. Or browse this archive by date. Subscribe now.

Head of the philosopher Carneades (215-129 BCE)Coming December 24: The Perils of Novel Argument
When people use novel or sophisticated arguments to influence others, the people they're trying to influence are sometimes subject to cognitive biases triggered by the nature of the argument. This puts them at a disadvantage relative to the influencer. How does this happen? Available here and by RSS on December 24
.
An egg sandwichAnd on December 31: The Power and Hazards of Anecdotes: Part I
Anecdotes are short stories — sometimes just a single sentence. They're powerful tools of persuasion, but they can also be dangerous, to both anecdote tellers and anecdote listeners. Available here and by RSS on December 31
.

Other topics:

March 13, 2013

Professor Brian Kelley, retired CIA officer, speaking at The Institute of World PoliticsBefore You Blow the Whistle: Part II
When organizations become aware of negligence, miscalculations, failures, wrongdoing, or legal infractions, they often try to conceal the bad news. People who disagree with the concealment activity sometimes decide to reveal what the organization is trying to hide. Here's Part II of our catalog of methods used to suppress the truth.

March 6, 2013

Dr. David Graham testifying to the Senate Finance Committee about VioxxBefore You Blow the Whistle: Part I
When organizations know that they've done something they shouldn't have, or they haven't done something they should have, they often try to conceal the bad news. When dealing with whistleblowers, they can be especially ruthless.

December 19, 2012

Malibu beach at sunsetFailure Foreordained
Performance Improvement Plans help supervisors guide their subordinates toward improved performance. But they can also be used to develop documentation to support termination. How can subordinates tell whether a PIP is a real opportunity to improve?

December 21, 2011

Armando Galarraga, pitcher for the Detroit Tigers baseball team, pitching on July 25, 2010When Your Boss Conveys Misinformation
When your boss misspeaks — innocently, as opposed to deviously — what should you do? Corrections are not always welcome, but failing to offer corrections can be equally dangerous. How can you tell what to do?

October 19, 2011

Steve McInnis, the Building Commissioner of the City of North Chicago, IllinoisHow to Stop Being Overworked: Part II
Although many of us are overloaded as a result of our own choices, some are overloaded by abusive supervisors. If you find yourself in that situation, what can you do?

October 12, 2011

A member of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus keeps 60 hula hoops going at once during her pre-show act March 27, 2008How to Stop Being Overworked: Part I
If you feel overworked, you probably are. Here are some tactics for those who want to bring an end to it, or at least, lighten the load.

October 5, 2011

Folsom Dam, on the American River near Sacramento, CaliforniaHow Did I Come to Be So Overworked?
You're good at your job, but there's just too much of it, and it keeps on coming. Your boss doesn't seem to realize how much work you do. How does this happen?

February 9, 2011

Aggregating anemones (Anthopleura elegantissima)How Pet Projects Get Resources: Cleverness
When pet projects thrive in an organization, they sometimes depend on the clever tactics of those who nurture them to secure resources despite conflict with organizational priorities. How does this happen?

February 2, 2011

Witchweed (striga hermonthica) a parasitic plantHow Pet Projects Get Resources: Abuse
Pet projects thrive in many organizations — even those that are supposedly "lean and mean." Some nurturers of pet projects abuse their authority to secure resources for their pets. How does this happen?

January 26, 2011

The Panzerkampfwagen VIII, a German World War II super-heavy tankWhy There Are Pet Projects
Pet projects are common in organizations, including organizations with healthy and mature planning processes. They usually consume resources at levels beyond what the organization intends, which raises the question of their genesis: Where do pet projects come from?

June 30, 2010

The obverse of the U.S. quarter dollar coin issued in 2000, honoring the state of New HampsireHow to Undermine Your Boss
Ever since I wrote "How to Undermine Your Subordinates," I've received scads of requests for "How to Undermine Your Boss." Must be a lot of unhappy subordinates out there. Well, this one's for you.

June 23, 2010

A Cliff Chipmunk in Saguaro National Park in ArizonaThis Is the Only Job
You have a job. Even though you liked it once, those days are long past, and a return is improbable. If you could, you'd hop to another job immediately, but economic conditions in your field make that unlikely. How can you deal with this misery?

April 21, 2010

A section of the walls of Conwy Castle showing a battered plinthHow to Undermine Your Subordinates
People write to me occasionally that their bosses undermine them, but I know there are bosses who want to do more undermining than they are already doing. So here are some tips for bosses aspiring to sink even lower.

March 18, 2009

A speakerphone of a type in common use for teleconferencesPet Peeves About Work
Everybody has pet peeves about work. Here's a collection drawn from my own life, the lives of others, and my vivid imagination.

February 25, 2009

A captive white rhinoFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part II
Staff reduction is needed when expenses overtake revenue. But when layoffs are misused, or used too late, they can harm the organization more than they help. Here's Part II of an exploration of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.

February 18, 2009

Christ's Indian PaintbrushFour Popular Ways to Mismanage Layoffs: Part I
When layoffs are necessary, the problems they are meant to address are sometimes exacerbated by mismanagement of the layoff itself. Here is Part I of a discussion of four common patterns of mismanagement, and some suggestions for those managers and other employees who recognize the patterns in their own companies.

February 11, 2009

A collared lizardHow to Avoid a Layoff: Your Situation
These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for positioning yourself in the organization to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

February 4, 2009

A pipe tomahawk dating to 1740-1780How to Avoid a Layoff: Your Relationships
In troubled economic times, layoffs loom almost everywhere. Here are some tips for reconfiguring your relationships with others at work and at home to reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

January 28, 2009

The Purchasing Managers IndexHow to Avoid a Layoff: The Inside Stuff
These are troubled economic times. Layoffs are becoming increasingly common. Here are some tips for changing your frame of mind to help reduce the chances that you will be laid off.

November 12, 2008

The crash of American Airlines Flight 191 in 1979Accepting Reality
Those with organizational power can sometimes forget that their power is limited to the organization. Achieving high levels of organizational and personal performance requires a clear sense of those limits.

October 15, 2008

Gen. John J. Pershing, Gen. George C. Marshall and Gen. Dwight D. EisenhowerWhen You're the Least of the Best: Part II
Many professions have entry-level roles that combine education with practice. Although these "newbies" have unique opportunities to learn from veterans, the role's relatively low status sometimes conflicts with the self-image of the new practitioner. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.

October 8, 2008

Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Stephen G. BreyerWhen You're the Least of the Best: Part I
The path to the pinnacle of many professions leads through an initiate or intern stage in which the new professional plays a role designed to facilitate learning, especially from those more experienced. For some, this role is frustrating and difficult. Comfort in the role makes learning its lessons easier.

August 13, 2008

Ice on Challenger's launch pad hours before the launchConflicts of Interest in Reporting
Reporting is the process that informs us about how things are going in the organization and its efforts. Unfortunately, the people who do the reporting often have a conflict of interest that leads to misleading and unreliable reports.

January 23, 2008

Lt. Col. John Paul VannManaging Personal Risk Management
When we bias organizational decisions to manage our personal risks, we're sometimes acting ethically — and sometimes not. What can we do to limit personal risk management?

November 7, 2007

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin PowellDevious Political Tactics: A Field Manual
Some practitioners of workplace politics use an assortment of devious tactics to accomplish their ends. Since most of us operate in a fairly straightforward manner, the devious among us gain unfair advantage. Here are some of their techniques, and some suggestions for effective responses.

August 29, 2007

Mars as seen by the Hubble TelescopeMore Indicators of Scopemonging
Scope creep — the tendency of some projects to expand their goals — is usually an unintended consequence of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's part of a hidden agenda that some use to overcome budgetary and political obstacles.

August 22, 2007

The spine of a human maleScopemonging: When Scope Creep Is Intentional
Scope creep is the tendency of some projects to expand their goals. Usually, we think of scope creep as an unintended consequence of a series of well-intentioned choices. But sometimes, it's much more than that.

August 1, 2007

Bush and Putin hugAbout Workplace Hugs
In the past twenty years in the United States, we've changed from a relatively hug-free workplace culture to one that, in some quarters, seems to be experiencing a hugging tsunami. Knowing how to deal with hugging is now a valuable skill.

July 25, 2007

A cup of coffeeMy Boss Gabs Too Much
Your boss has popped into your office for another morning gab session. Normally, it's irritating, but today you have a tight deadline, so you're royally ticked. What can you do?

June 20, 2007

The Declaration of IndependenceMore Stuff and Nonsense
Some of what we believe is true about work comes not from the culture at work, but from the larger culture. These beliefs are much more difficult to root out, but sometimes just a little consideration does help. Here are some examples.

June 13, 2007

An old-fashioned punch clock, still in wide useThings We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True
Maxims and rules make life simpler by eliminating decisions. And they have a price: they sometimes foreclose options that would have worked better than anything else. Here are some things we believe in maybe a little too much.

March 7, 2007

Captain William BlighHow to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager
By now, we've all heard of micromanagers, and some have experienced micromanagement firsthand. Some of us have even micromanaged others. But there's a breed of micromanagers whose behavior is so outlandish that they need a category of their own.

December 27, 2006

One of the Franklin Milestones on the Boston Post RoadManaging Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part III of a set of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.

December 20, 2006

Freeway damage in the 1989 Loma Prieta, California, EarthquakeManaging Pressure: The Unexpected
When projects falter, we expect demands for status and explanations. What's puzzling is how often this happens to projects that aren't in trouble. Here's Part II of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure.

December 13, 2006

The 1991 eruption of Mount PinatuboManaging Pressure: Communications and Expectations
Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.

December 6, 2006

Lion, ready to spring, in Samburu National Reserve, KenyaUsing Indirectness at Work
Although many of us value directness, indirectness does have its place. At times, conveying information indirectly can be a safe way — sometimes the only safe way — to preserve or restore well-being and comity within the organization.

September 20, 2006

Seafood stewWhen You Think Your Boss Is Incompetent
After the boss commits even a few enormous blunders, some of us conclude that he or she is just incompetent. We begin to worry whether our careers are safe, whether the company is safe, or whether to start looking for another job. Beyond worrying, what else can we do?

September 13, 2006

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan of GhanaHow to Get a Promotion in Line
If you want a promotion in line — a promotion to the next supervisory level in your organization — what should you do now to make it come about? What risks are there?

August 23, 2006

A portion of the memorial to the Massachusetts 54th RegimentHow to Get Promoted in Place
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us do, judging by the number of Web pages that talk about promotions, getting promoted, or asking for promotions. What you do to get a promotion depends on what you're aiming for.

August 16, 2006

The 171st graduating class of the Massachusetts Firefighting AcademyHow to Get a Promotion: the Inside Stuff
Do you think you're overdue for a promotion? Many of us are, but are you doing all you can to make it happen? Start with a focus on you.

July 5, 2006

The Apollo 17 Lunar Rover, showing its damaged fenderAre You a Fender?
Taking political risks is part of the job, especially if you want the challenges and rewards that come with increased responsibility. That's fair. But some people manage political risks by offloading them onto subordinates. Be certain that the risk burden you carry is really your own — and that you carry all of it yourself.

June 28, 2006

Presenting to persuadePresenting to Persuade
Successful, persuasive presentations involve a whole lot more than PowerPoint skills. What does it take to present persuasively, with power?

June 21, 2006

A Julius Caesar coinOn Organizational Coups d'Etat
If your boss is truly incompetent, or maybe even evil, organizing a coup d'etat might have crossed your mind. In most cases, it's wise to let it cross on through, all the way. Think of alternative ways out.

May 3, 2006

A headline about the War of the Worlds BroadcastDeliver the Headline First
When we deliver news at work — status, events, personnel changes, whatever — we sometimes frame it in a story line format. We start at the beginning and we gradually work up to the point. That might be the right way to deliver good news, but for everything else, especially bad news, deliver the headline first, and then offer the details.

February 15, 2006

Capitol Hill at nightNepotism, Patronage, Vendettas, and Workplace Espionage
Normally, you terminate or reassign team members who actually inhibit progress. Here are some helpful insights and tactics to use when termination or reassignment is impossible.

February 8, 2006

A toolboxTen Tactics for Tough Times: Part II
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part II of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.

February 1, 2006

Problem solving often requires collaborationTen Tactics for Tough Times: Part I
When you find yourself in a tough spot politically, what can you do? Most of us obsess about the situation for a while, and then if we still have time to act, we do what seems best. Here's Part I of a set of approaches that can organize your thinking and shorten the obsessing.

October 12, 2005

A thiefLooking the Other Way
Sometimes when we notice wrongdoing, and we aren't directly involved, we don't report it, and we don't intervene. We look the other way. Typically, we do this to avoid the risks of making a report. But looking the other way is also risky. What are the risks of looking the other way?

August 24, 2005

Which came first — the chicken or the egg?Dealing with Condescension
Condescending remarks hurt. When we feel that pain, we often feel the urge to retaliate, even when retaliation might not be appropriate. Our responses are more effective when we understand where condescending remarks come from.

August 17, 2005

Two rabbits doing the Condescension Cha-ChaControlling Condescension
Condescension is one reason why healthy conflict becomes destructive. It's a conversational technique that many use without thinking, and others use with aggressive intention. Either way, it can hurt everyone involved.

July 20, 2005

The Great WallDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part II
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Here's Part II of a series exploring the risks of these tactics.

July 6, 2005

The Roman ColiseumDevious Political Tactics: Divide and Conquer, Part I
While most leaders try to achieve organizational unity, some do use divisive tactics to maintain control, or to elevate performance by fostering competition. Understanding the risks of these tactics can motivate you to find another way.

June 15, 2005

A harrow in actionWhen Others Curry Favor
When peers curry favor with the boss, many of us feel contempt, an urge for revenge, anger, or worse. Trying to stop those who curry favor probably isn't an effective strategy. What is?

June 8, 2005

ApplesCurrying Favor
The behavior of the office kiss-up drives many people bats. It's more than annoying, though — it does real harm to the organization. What is the behavior?

March 9, 2005

An island vacation getawayPlanning Your Getaway
For many of us, taking a vacation can be a burden. We ask ourselves, "How can I get away now?" And sometimes we have the answer: "I can't." How can we feel relaxed about taking time off?

February 16, 2005

A headsman with a double-bladed-axeTop Ten Signs of a Blaming Culture
The quality of an organization's culture is the key to high performance. An organization with a blaming culture can't perform at a high level, because its people can't take reasonable risks. How can you tell whether you work in a blaming culture?

October 20, 2004

Two orcas fightingWhen Leaders Fight
Organizations often pretend that feuds between leaders do not exist. But when the two most powerful people in your organization go head-to-head, everyone in the organization suffers. How can you survive a feud between people above you in the org chart?

September 29, 2004

Scott McLellan, White House Press Secretary, 2003-2006Devious Political Tactics: Cutouts
Cutouts are people or procedures that enable political operators to communicate in safety. Using cutouts, operators can manipulate their environments while limiting their personal risk. How can you detect cutouts? And what can you do about them?

September 22, 2004

The unappreciative bossThe Unappreciative Boss
Do you work for a boss who doesn't appreciate you? Do you feel ignored or excessively criticized? If you do, life can be a misery, if you make it so. Or you can work around it. It's up to you to choose.

June 30, 2004

A metronomeSelling Uphill: The Pitch
Whether you're a CEO or a project champion, you occasionally have to persuade decision-makers who have some kind of power over you. What do they look for? What are the key elements of an effective pitch? What does it take to Persuade Power?

June 23, 2004

Uphill skierSelling Uphill: Before and After
Whether you're a CEO appealing to your Board of Directors, your stockholders or regulators, or a project champion appealing to a senior manager, you have to "sell uphill" from time to time. Persuading decision-makers who have some kind of power over us is a challenging task. How can we prepare the way for success now and in the future?

January 7, 2004

Taking a measurementThere Are No Micromanagers
If you're a manager who micromanages, you're probably trying as best you can to help your organization meet its responsibilities. Still, you might feel that people are unhappy — that whatever you're doing isn't working. There is another way.

November 26, 2003

FearWhen Power Attends the Meeting
When the boss or supervisor of the chair of a regular meeting "sits in," disruption almost inevitably results, and it's usually invisible to the visitor. Here are some of the risks of sitting in on the meetings of your subordinates.

October 15, 2003

Three-legged racing teamDevious Political Tactics: The Three-Legged Race
The Three-Legged Race is a tactic that some managers use to avoid giving one person new authority. Some of the more cynical among us use it to sabotage projects or even careers. How can you survive a three-legged race?

October 1, 2003

A rhinestone ringDevious Political Tactics: The False Opportunity
Workplace politics can make any environment dangerous, both to your career and to your health. This excerpt from my little catalog of devious political tactics describes the false opportunity, which appears to be a chance to perform, to contribute, or to make a real difference. It's often something else.

September 24, 2003

A credit thiefDevious Political Tactics: Credit Appropriation
Managers and supervisors who take credit for the work of subordinates or others who feel powerless are using a tactic I call Credit Appropriation. It's the mark of the unsophisticated political operator.

January 1, 2003

Virginia  Satir's Yes No MedallionSaying No
When we have to say "no" to customers or to people in power, we're often tempted to placate with a "yes." There's a better way: learn how to say "no" in a way that moves the group toward joint problem solving.

October 30, 2002

Commitment by FearManipulated Commitments
Manipulated or coerced commitment looks pretty good on paper, but it might not lead to dedicated action. When the truth is finally revealed, trouble can be unavoidable.

July 17, 2002

Man chopping down a treeDouble Your Downsizing Damage
Some people believe that senior management is actually trying to hurt their company by downsizing. If they are they're doing a pretty bad job of it. Here's a handy checklist for evaluating the performance of your company's downsizers.

January 30, 2002

Tugboats workingBecome a Tugboat Captain
If your job responsibilities sometimes require that you tell powerful people that they must do something differently, you could find yourself in danger from time to time. You can learn a lot from tugboat captains.

December 5, 2001

BottlenecksWhen Your Boss Is a Micromanager
If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration. Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do is change the way you experience the micromanagement.

November 14, 2001

The blaming bossWhen Your Boss Attacks Your Self-Esteem
Your boss's comments about your work can make your day — or break it. When you experience a comment as negative or hurtful, you might become angry, defensive, withdrawn, or even shut down. When that happens, you're not at your best. What can you do if your boss seems intent on making every day a misery?

May 16, 2001

Two locksDiagonal Collaborations: Dazzling or Dangerous?
Collaborations can be very productive. There are some traps though, especially when the collaborators are of different rank, with the partner of lower rank reporting to a peer of the other. Here are some tips for preventing conflict in diagonal collaborations.

January 17, 2001

A burglarWhen Your Boss Asks You to Do Something Unethical
When your boss asks you to look the other way, or to actively take part in unethical activity, you probably feel uncomfortable — with good reason. Can you find a way to live with yourself?

Rick BrennerWhether you're a decision maker or someone about whom other people make decisions — or both! — the right coach can make a difference in your life. I might be the right coach for you. Call me, Rick Brenner, at (866) 378-5470 for a no-cost informal chat. Sign up in November and receive two hours as a bonus. Check it out!
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