Mentoring is probably the most powerful developmental process people can experience. Used effectively, it can empower people and provide a means to communicate that is second to none. It provides many tools and tips for managing those around you, one of the most important being ‘the boss’. Mentoring is about professional and personal development and hence it is a terrific framework to utilise in any approach to your boss. It will give you more confidence and a heightened level of competence for communicating, especially if the conversation is considered to be critical, from your point of view.
The starting point
Remember that strong managers are primarily concerned with their team and the organisation, driving toward positive results. Approaching your boss is therefore all about exploration of the possible actions you might take and managing your own expectations about outcomes. You need to explore the possible actions, bearing in mind the manager’s driving forces above and go forward to your boss with the best possible option. Be sure that you have considered it from all angles (theirs and your own), first. As in a mentoring situation, much depends on the topic to be discussed.
- If it is something significant, related to changes in personal or professional attitudes and behaviours, you may find that you need to explore an issue on and off for several months.
- If it is a practical topic, related to knowledge or skills, it may only take a few minutes or a few hours.
The goal is to find mutual understanding.
This new understanding is experienced in a number of ways, depending on the individual and the importance of the issue in hand. Be flexible and resourceful, ready to move forward (and sometimes backwards) empathically and constructively. Even when dealing with your boss, be supportive and sensitive so that when you challenge, your boss is receptive and able to acknowledge and learn your desires. Always challenge positively. Even bosses can feel vulnerable, especially if the ‘old way’ is being criticised. Provide reflection and respect for the past. In the end, the boss needs to be part of the “journey to discovery,” that place where you would ideally like to land. Following agreement on the new course, the action phase is sometimes immediate but, in the case of complex attitudinal and behavioural issues, it may take weeks, months or even years to fully develop. Ultimately, the timescale is dependent on experience, the nature and complexity of the issue and the quality of the conversations that you are able to hold. In the end, the similarities to the mentoring process are based on the following personal traits, drawing on your ability to be:
- Enthusiastic – genuinely interested in the boss and his/her concerns, needs and aspirations.
- Motivating and encouraging – to understand and channel the boss’s energy into constructive change, new challenges and overcoming difficulties.
- Open – prepared to share your own experience of similar issues, be honest about yourself, be honest and appreciative of the boss.
- Empathic – able to appreciate how the boss thinks, feels and behaves.
- Positive in your outlook – able to appreciate the boss’s point of view and see solutions.
- A good listener – able to really focus on what the boss is saying without your own thoughts crowding out the boss’s words.
If you harness all these abilities as you go into discussions with work colleagues and your boss, you are much more likely to resolve your issue with a mutually agreeable outcome than you would if your approach was hostile, disrespectful and centred only on your needs and desires.