Managing Your Boss: Revisited

Jan 30, 2015 1 Min Read


Thirty-five years ago, John Gabarro and John Kotter suggested that we ‘manage our bosses’, and I realise this with a little chuckle as I was still in primary school and the majority of my colleagues today would not have been born when the book was first published.

It would have been invaluable to have read this back in the day, as the simple yet germane messages still apply. In light of present day workplace dynamics, let us revisit the advice put forth by Gabarro and Kotter.


Misreading the boss-subordinate relationship: From the silent generation to Gen-Z

The combination of having a good understanding of each other’s strengths, weaknesses, work styles and needs, and developing a healthy working relationship based on that mutual understanding, has been an ability found in highly effective managers.

Having had the opportunity to work in teams comprising the silent generation, baby boomers, Gen-X and Y, and more recently leading a team comprising Gen-X, Y and Z, this point is well taken.

While I tend to focus on an individual rather than his/her generation; observing, reading up and having a deeper understanding of the world that my team grew up in helps give some context to how they operate.

Gen-Z, for example, may have developed their personalities in a world knowing that traditional choices like lifelong employment does not guarantee success. On millennials, the Deloitte Millennial Survey 2014 reports that they want to work for an organisation that not only fosters innovative thinking and develops their skills but also makes a positive contribution to society.

Having felt the frosty reception of bosses to my endless ideas when joining a new role in my younger days, I seek to create an environment to nurture creativity rather than quash it.


Understanding the boss: Virtual teams

“Managing your boss requires that you gain an understanding of the boss and his or her context, as well as your own situation. All managers do this to some degree, but many are not thorough enough.” (Gabarro & Kotter)

Being part of a virtual team is increasingly common. On different occasions, I have been part of a widely dispersed team. It certainly had its ups and downs.

Having a presence in different continents, markets and cultures gave us quick access to valuable insights and helped avoid potential issues in project execution on the ground.

At the end of the day though, that human connection and just being in the same room to be able to read each other was crucial to develop the necessary understanding of our strengths, weaknesses, work styles and needs – as well as the leadership style of the boss.

Failure to set it up right at the outset can lead to a dysfunctional team especially if the boss is unable to dial it back and progress through the stages of team development: forming, storming, norming, and performing.

Over the years and in different organisational settings, I have seen how teams have evolved and it appears that team members appear to be more willing to assert themselves now – seeking clarification about the boss’s goals and what drives him/her rather than quietly assuming.

Step up and be heard!


Understanding yourself: Evergreen advice

At Leaderonomics, we recognise that self-awareness is a starting point for everyone seeking to develop themselves, be it the youth, college students, working adults or senior leadership of organisations. This applies too to the working relationship with a boss.

Whether my relationship with my boss thrives in a virtuous cycle, or fizzles in a vicious cycle of interactions does depend much on how I understand myself and my responses to my boss. And then working on developing an effective relationship for the former!


Developing and managing the relationship: And now, action!

The Checklist for Managing your Boss (Harvard Business School) certainly applies today. To go from surviving to thriving at the workplace, we need to work on managing a relationship that fits the needs and styles of both boss and employee.

It should be based on clearly defined and mutual expectations of both, as well as dependability and honesty.
While we need to keep our bosses informed, bosses of today realise that to develop teams that are engaged and quick to adapt in changing environments, the flow of information has to go both ways.

Organisations that are rigid and hierarchical potentially miss out on opportunities that present themselves to everyone throughout the organisation – frontliners, for example, may have always wanted to suggest process improvements or hitherto untapped potential in markets but had no channel to do so.

For great insights from Azran Osman Rani, (former) CEO of AirAsia X on developing an agile team and nurturing organisation-wide flows of information and ideas, do check out The Leaderonomics Show.


Karen was recently included in a focus group discussion representing Gen-X, where her investigator was appropriately amused (and confused) that Karen was clearly not the poster child for her generation. Send us your feedback at or comment in the box provided.

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Karen has rather bizarrely maintained a childlike side to herself – always keen to see, learn and do new things. Yet she has remained grounded on finding the best way to help people – especially those who have the skills and heart to do incredible things.

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