Modern Middle Manager
Primarily my musings on the practical application of technology and management principles at a financial services company.
Handling the Boss

Saturday, January 25, 2003  

Rule #1 of handling your immediate superior is, "Always Make Your Boss Look Good." Even if you are totally ruthless in your self-promotion (and you should be, martyrdom sucks), you should remind everyone of how your boss gives you the freedom and support to perform your job and accomplish your projects in the best manner possible. If you build up that goodwill, your boss may just be less likely to sacrifice you like a lamb on the altar of his or her ambition once in a while. Yesterday I had the misfortune of explaining to the senior vice president of our wealth management division why her project hadn't been started -- the decision was made by my boss, the COO. After she left a bit piqued she contacted the COO to ask him why he'd delayed her project. His response was immediately to me to find out what happened. Heh. I knew immediately where this was going -- he didn't want to be the bad guy.

Rewind to Monday, when I have a weekly status meeting with my boss. At that meeting I presented him with three major projects: rewriting an open source e-mail application to access a database that provides wire clients with wire notifications and reports, creating an interface between our core banking system and a sister division's accounting application, and creating a consolidated account report to share with our sister investment company (the WM senior VP's project). I have two developers and three projects -- something needs to get pre-empted. In our last discussion my boss clearly, crystal clearly, said to go ahead with the two banking projects first and delay the account report. When we discussed on the phone he had a "different perception" of what was said and mildly chastised me for not being clear at our last status meeting.

So what did I do? Political capital is saved and spent. I explained it away as a miscommunication and apologized. I know two things: first of all, banking services is his empire so it pre-empts all other considerations. Secondly, I stated that the root of the WMSVP's issue was that her staff would have to do massive amounts of data entry, something we're trying to avoid in the design of the report and its inputs. Therefore her concerns were overblown and he could carry the good news to her. He's the hero, I'm the goat. True enough. However, in his eyes I'm not much of a goat because I put his empire first. In her eyes my transgression will be forgotten when the project is delivered -- the root of her anger and frustration are far deeper than a mere project. She is watching her power in the company crumble and her general crankiness is a symptom. I will ride it out and, once again, survive yet another SVP's wrath as they make their way out the door for the final time.

The last power struggle to be settled in this company will be between the EVP and COO. My position is to serve faithfully whomever my boss is and continue to give great internal customer service to those in the EVP's department, even if he is less than thrilled with my performance. Much like how we saved our CRM project, if my current boss leaves my position will be saved because of grass-roots efforts, not senior management.

posted by Henry Jenkins | 1/25/2003 12:07:00 PM

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