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Ignoring Boss

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When your boss has become a stumbling block, you should say, "The heck with my boss, I am just going to concentrate on my job."

You've career goals. That's what your boss and yourself when you're intent on tuning out your boss and not letting him or her get to you.

This is the essence of a strategy touted by Lyie Sussman, University of Louisville management professor and author of What to Say to Get What You Want (Addison-Wesley).

Sussman says the focus should be on your work. The goals of this strategy are:
  • To put personalities aside
  • To create a legacy for your future work
  • To turn your boss into an irrelevant issue
  • To focus on what you are being paid to do
Sussman's advice: You will always benefit by being involved in a winning project.

If nothing else, his advice sounds good. But how can you pull it off? Let's find out. Sussman's advice works in two situations:
  1. If you're strong-minded and can block out interference.
  2. If your boss allows you to concentrate on your work.

Let us start with the first one. It takes a tough-skinned person with a strong ego to block out his or her surroundings and concentrate on work. In effect, it's like putting on psychological blinders. These are the individuals who forced themselves to study while friends partied all night long or who prepared for a calculus exam while roommates blasted loud music. It takes self-confidence, drive, hard work, and unbelievable discipline. Most of us are not that strong. In the face of peer pressure, we go with the tides for fear of making waves.

A strong-willed person has the maturity and strength to first size up her work situation and then concentrates on the job at hand. She'll say to herself; "Ted is an incompetent bungler who doesn't know what he's doing. He dawdles and has a tough time making decisions. That's his problem, not mine. I'm not going to let him stand in my way of doing exemplary work." Harold, a promotion manager for a national cable company, reported to a cocky boss who always had to have his way. He was a hands-in-every-pot kind of boss. Within his first weeks on the job, Harold sized up the man and made an important observation: His boss was no threat to his career. From that point on, he thought of himself as an actor on a stage with the power to control his audience by turning in a brilliant performance. Harold's one-person audience was his boss.

His job turned into a complex game, but it was a very serious one that he intended to win. He viewed his boss as one who is only technically in the power seat. He realized that if he tuned out his boss, he'd have clear sailing. It amounted to sound advice worth heeding. It may sound cold and calculating, but Harold managed to dehumanize his boss. As soon as he realized that he was no threat to him, his boss became a nonperson. He became a cyborg that just happened to resemble a human being.

Advice: Take advantage of situations you can control by climbing into the power position. Often, who actually controls a situation is a moot point. Your boss is technically the senior "Tuning Out Your Boss" person and decision maker earning a lot more money. But no one says you can't control your boss by cleverly manipulating the situation to be in your favor. Harold did it, and millions of others are quietly doing it every day. Yes, it's manipulation. But what's wrong with that if you are getting what you want and nobody is getting hurt?

Employees controlling their bosses again remind me of the classic British thriller The Servant, It's so similar to employee-boss relationships that I urge you to watch it and study the dynamics between servant Dirk Bogarde and employer James Fox. The intricate psychodynamics in the film elevate it to cult classic status. I'm not suggesting you use the corrupt and decadent Bogarde character as a role model. But it's fascinating how one person in a seemingly inferior position can become the master and subtly dominate and control the relationship. This situation is very possible in the workplace when you have bosses who are no intellectual matches for their employees. As the saying goes, 'They're like putty in your hands."

Harold's goal was to further his career, and he didn't care how he did it as long as it didn't put him in jail. Once he sized up his boss, he knew he could control the situation by placating him and giving him what he needed. But not everyone is as lucky as Harold, which brings us to the second situation where Sussman's advice can work.


To concentrate solely on your job, your boss must allow you to do so. Assume there will be a certain amount of interference, but the key is that it won't be so overwhelming or overbearing that you're brought to a complete standstill.

Helen, a securities analyst at a small Philadelphia brokerage house, reported to Martha, a tough, domineering supervisor who was like a powerful fullback blocking her every move. If Helen was more intuitive, she wouldn't have taken the job.

The vibes were bad the second they clapped eyes on each other. Martha 's angry piercing stare and interrogative manner were off-putting. At the time, Helen made light of it. She was young, inexperienced, and wanted to work for a small broker age firm where she could build credentials and contacts.

Helen disregarded Martha s overbearing manner by saying, *'It was only my first impression. Once she gets to know me and discover I am a hard worker who wants to do great work, we will be great friends." But just the opposite happened. Helen went on to do a great job and make a lot of friends, but Martha wasn't one of them. The more friends Helen made and the more she accomplished, the greater the animosity between the two women.

It didn't take Helen long to figure out what the problem was. The two women were complete opposites. Helen was young, pretty, and in the liftoff phase of what promised to be a long and accomplished career. What s more, she started out with the right accouterments. She had graduated from Smith College with honors in the top 10th percentile of her class.

Martha, on the other hand, was a dowdy, overweight woman in her late 40s who was forced to quit college after her sophomore year to help support her sick parents. While she was a hard worker, she didn't have the elegant upper-middle-class background that Helen carried with her like a proud mantle.

Helen grew up privileged with comfort and luxury. Martha's parents, in contrast, were working class, uneducated, and poor. Since money was always an issue in her home, Martha had been working since she was a teenager. On the job, Martha started off at the bottom, but advanced quickly. However, she never got beyond a low-level supervisory slot. And that s where she s been for the past 8 years. Her career is stalled, and she realizes that she's not going any further. Management sees her as past her prime. They won't get rid of her because she does her job well, but they're also not going to promote her because plenty of other workers are equally bright, if not brighter, and present a better image. In the corporate world, image and impression weigh heavily into the success equation.

It is obvious that Martha s seething hatred and jealousy will make it impossible for Helen to advance. She'll block her every move. If she encourages Helen and gives her the freedom she deserves, it won't be long before she achieves equal ranking. After that, it is only a matter of time before she'll overtake Martha on the corporate organization chart.

At this point, one can only guess what will happen in the Helen and Martha drama. One thing is certain: As long as Helen reports to Martha, she will never be able to be all she could be in her job. However, things could turn around quickly.

Since Helen is an obvious shining star, senior management might step in and whisk her away from her jealous and bitter supervisor. Or Helen could take a better job. I lean toward the former possibility. Tight corporate cultures are like small towns where everyone knows each other's business. Martha is tolerated and respected, but Helen is the clear favorite. She's the thoroughbred horse at the starting gate. Everyone knows it's only a matter of time before she bolts toward the finish line ahead of everyone else.
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