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Success requires managing your boss. But some people shrug off that responsibility, foolishly falling for some dangerous myths, consultant Bruce Tulgan writes in Training magazine.

Here are some myths to ignore:

  • If you are a high performer, your boss shouldn’t tell you how to do your job: That may just be your ego talking. “No matter how good you may be at your job, everybody needs guidance, direction, and support in order to succeed. You don’t want to waste your valuable time and energy doing the wrong things, or doing the right things the wrong way,” Mr. Tulgan writes. “Even if you know more about the specific task, responsibility, or project than your boss does, you are not operating in a vacuum.”
     
  • In order to be creative, you need to be left alone to do things your own way: In fact, only after you know the requirements of every task or project can you even start being creative.
     
  • If somebody else is getting special treatment, so should you: In such situations, you need to figure out what that individual did to merit that status. If others are getting rewards you aren’t receiving, it may be time for a reality check on your performance.
     
  • The path to success is catering to your boss’s style and preferences: You definitely need to tune into your boss’s preferences. But Mr. Tulgan stresses that you cannot afford to compromise the basic attributes and actions you need to succeed.
     
  • Making “friends” with your boss is a smart policy: The smartest workplace politics is actually to keep your work relationships focused on the work. “Build authentic relationships with your bosses by developing genuine rapport, regardless of whether you are friends. How? By talking about the work on a regular basis. That is what the two of you have in common that is authentic. That is the kind of rapport that makes the work go better,” he advises.
     
  • No news is good news, but being “coached” on your performance is bad news: “No news may not be bad, but it definitely does you no good. Being coached on your performance, on the other hand, is an opportunity to improve – and that is always good news,” he says. Of course, each boss will have a unique coaching ability. Look for ones who are superior educators.
     
  • If your boss doesn’t like to read paperwork, you don’t need to keep track of your performance in writing: Most managers don’t routinely monitor subordinates’ performance. So you need to make sure there is an accurate, written record of what you accomplish.
     
  • Some bosses are just too busy to meet with you: The boss may feel that way but it’s wrong and you can’t allow such separation to occur. “Make your one-on-one time with every boss brief, straightforward, efficient, and all about the work. But make sure you get that regular one-on-one time with every boss you answer to directly at any given time,” he says.

Three new brainstorming techniques to try

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If brainstorming has become ho-hum in your organization, perhaps a new technique would work better. Consultants Judah Pollack and Olivia Fox Cabane share these three methods on Fast Company:

  • The ambassador method: Set up two groups to work on the problem simultaneously, one in which people don’t speak but write their ideas down quietly, and the other taking a more traditional approach, calling out ideas and writing them on the blackboard. People can choose their preferred group. The teams each organize their ideas (yes, the quiet team can now speak) and choose an ambassador to share their ideas with the other group. “This way the quiet group goes from listening to themselves to listening to someone else, and the talkative group goes from talking to listening,” the consultants write, which activates different parts of the brain and gets more of the mind’s creative juices flowing. A second round occurs and, if you wish, further cycles, although after three sessions the returns will diminish. But even with two sessions, you have allowed ideas to settle before being discussed again and improved.
     
  • The sleepover method: This extends the notion of allowing time for ideas to be reconsidered. After a traditional brainstorming session, ask people to take notes from the session home – including individuals who didn’t even attend – and return the next morning to write down other ideas that have struck them. “Our brains do tremendous amount of work while we sleep,” they note.
     
  • The strolling method: After a typical brainstorming session of 30 to 60 minutes, write the ideas down, hand the summary out and send people outside for a walk – even as short as 15 minutes. Their minds will wander and you will benefit upon their return.

Some revealing coaching questions to ask

Here are some helpful questions to ask when coaching or mentoring subordinates, courtesy of consultant Jesse Lyn Stoner:

  • What would it look like if you were entirely successful?
     
  • Why do you want that? (Followups: Why do you want that? Why do you want that? Why do you want that? Keep digging deeper)
     
  • In six months, if things were going exactly the way you wanted, what would you see?
     
  • What would be your next goal after you achieve your current one? (Followup: Why?)
     
  • What would you do if you had unlimited resources?
     
  • What is so important to you that you would stand in front of a bus to defend it?
     
  • What would be the impact on you (and others) if things don’t change?
     
  • What can you accomplish that doesn’t depend on others?
     
  • What is currently your biggest problem or challenge? (Followup: If this weren’t a problem, what would be your biggest problem?)
     
  • What is working well?
     
  • What has contributed to your success so far? (Followup: How might it get in your way?)
     
  • What might keep you from getting where you want to go?
     
  • What obstacles have you faced, what did you do and what did you learn?
     
  • What obstacles do you expect to face? How do you plan to approach them?
     
  • What resources do you have access to?
     
  • What are your biggest mistakes and what did you learn from them?
     
  • If a friend were in your shoes, what advice would you give them?
     
  • What is one step you could take right now that would indicate you were moving forward?
     
  • Are there any important questions that have not been asked?

Quick hits

  • When Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is leery about an idea, he will often tersely say, “disagree and commit.” The translation: He disagrees and wants the team to take that in mind before deciding whether to go ahead. If they continue with the effort, he commits to support them and hopes his initial evaluation will be proven wrong.
     
  • If getting out of the house in the morning leaves you frustrated, coach Louise Thompson suggests writing down what your three key irritants are and how you can lessen or resolve them.
     
  • Marketers have viewed social media as an opportunity for gaining widespread public exposure at virtually no cost. But advertising contrarian Bob Hoffman says the recent debacles of Pepsi and United Airlines suggest it is far more important for companies to learn how to play social-media defence than offence.
     
  • If responding to your e-mail is not urgent, say so in the body of your message, advises journalist Kayla Matthews. You can write “no rush” or “take your time on this.” If no reply is needed, indicate that.
     
  • A meaningful thank-you note requires a three-part structure, says trainer Beth Beutler. Point out the actual gift or thoughtful gesture you experienced because of someone else. Write briefly how you were affected by the gesture, how it made you feel and the difference it made in your life. Compliment something specific about the person that is not necessarily related to the gift they gave you.
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About the Author
Management columnist

Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. More

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