Your boss is the most important character in your work life. No matter how long you’ve been working, I bet you can name every boss you ever had; that’s how powerful their imprint is on us. Most of us have had good and bad bosses at some point in our careers, and we probably learned a lot from both types of manager. And yet, while there’s plenty of books about bad bosses, there isn’t as much written about good bosses and what we can learn from them. The best bosses stretch and develop us; they showcase us to the organization, position us for promotion, and even “give us up” for a more important position elsewhere in the company.
In short, they care about us, and go out of their way to make us successful. Their value to our careers is immeasurable. Here are five critical ways a good boss adds value to our work lives:
1) Navigating the Organization. The best bosses teach us “how things really work” in the company. They know the players, the politics, and all of the subtleties that can ensure a “yes” for that new project. They know what works and doesn’t work, and they share that knowledge freely. A good boss is our guide to navigating the organization – steering us around road-blocks, helping us with uncooperative business partners, or opening doors we might otherwise have found shut. They even help us understand the corporate language, norms and nuances, giving specific advice about individual leaders’ styles and idiosyncrasies. Simply put, the best bosses show us how to “work the system” – ensuring we’ll have the smoothest path possible to build relationships and get things done.
2) Functional Experience. The best bosses share valuable knowledge and wisdom about the art and science of our work. By sharing their experiences, the boss can help us think differently about our tasks or projects. They know the pros and cons of decisions, how best to launch a new policy or procedure, and how the various pieces of our work best fit together. This willingness to teach and advise is especially useful to us when we’re learning about our chosen field, but even if we’re experienced professionals, having a boss who’s “seen it all” can be extremely valuable.
3) Coaching. The best bosses ask provocative and challenging questions. They use a coaching style to help us brainstorm possibilities, explore alternatives or find solutions. While they may have the answer, they don’t just tell us what to do. They help us explore ideas, and they do it with thoughtful questions. A good boss challenges us to think for ourselves; they guide us with a series of questions to build our capability and confidence. Coaching is an art form, and the bosses who push us with stimulating questions are teaching us to think strategically. In a sense, they’re preparing us to lead someday, one question at a time.
4) Air Cover. The best bosses run interference for us, or guide us to the right people to build our brands within the company. They know where and how to exert influence on our behalf. They provide critical alignment with their peers and help us get support for our ideas. They lay the groundwork for us to present to senior leadership, knowing the right moment to step in with their support. Having a boss who believes in you, who is willing to go to bat for you, can make the difference between success and irrelevance in your role.
5) Networking. The best bosses introduce us to their internal and external networks. They make experts available to us, and connect us to people who can help our careers. They don’t “hoard” relationships – they share them with us. They’re self-confident about their position in the organization, so they allow us to establish contacts and relationships with their peers and even leaders above them. These bosses understand that by exposing us to their networks, they’re actually strengthening their network. They know the more relationships we have, the better chance we have to make our team look good, and they genuinely want us to build our reputations with their closest friends and colleagues.
Most of us have a boss, of course. So ask yourself: “Am I receiving these five gifts from my boss?” If you are, that’s great; you’re working for a good boss. If not, ask them to share their experiences more often. Ask for help in navigating the landmines ahead. Ask if they can introduce you to a particular leader, or if they know anyone outside the company you can contact to share best practices. In other words, guide your boss into offering more value. You know what they should be providing, besides assigning and overseeing your work. Go get it from them.
Finally, many of us are bosses. So ask yourself: “Am I providing this value to my direct reports?” If you manage other people, you’ve been given a great gift – the opportunity to change people’s lives. If you’re going to make that kind of a difference however, you need to take your leadership to a new level. That means consciously adding value to your direct reports in these five areas. Leave time in your busy day to share your knowledge and experiences and ask great coaching questions. Pave the way for your team’s success with your influencing skills. Encourage your direct reports to use your network. You’ll build a stronger team in the process, which is good for your brand, too. But the best reason to add this kind of value is the satisfaction of knowing you gave them everything you had to offer to help them grow and develop.