……SO NOW YOU’RE A CHIEF
A new year and perhaps you’re one of the Chief Officers in Bergen County taking the top spot in your department or perhaps you’re preparing to advance up the ladder. Either way, I’d like wish you all the best in the New Year, and remember the secret formula for managing your department, “take care of your people.”
There are many experienced fire service managers in your department and many more around the county that can give you the advice to solve any problem, just reach out. Better yet, find a mentor now who you can connect with, someone whom you see as an excellent CFO (Chief Fire Officer).
In the December, 2012 issue of Fire Chief there is an article by Chief Brian Crawford. In Find Your Way Crawford lays out 12 Commandments for new fire chiefs. Now Crawford has been around the block a few times, he was the chief of Shreveport, Louisiana and is now in the top slot in Plano, Texas. You should get a copy, it’s a good read, but Crawford leaves out a very important element about any command. Everyone has a boss and Crawford doesn’t even mention dealing with bosses, he only speaks about being a boss.
Everyone has a boss and most likely yours is a Council member, Borough Manager and/or the Mayor. The titles vary but one thing is for sure, you have people that you will need to report to. Not realizing this is eliminating half of the management equation, it’s like the Chief who only fights the fire from the outside, without any concern for interior operations.
You need to identify the people you will be reporting to and very quickly size them up. The best approach may just be the truth, a little honest empathizing with your new boss’s situation, and expressing some empathy. By appreciating what your boss is facing and why they might be struggling, you open them up to hearing a well-intentioned suggestion about how together you both can do a better job. A little sincere honesty goes a long way these days.
What you’re doing is managing your relationship with your boss. There will always be those who view the concept of managing upward as flattery and manipulation. Others hold the common belief that if bosses are wise, they don’t need to be managed and such efforts will be viewed solely as attempts to play office politics. But managing upward is not about ambition, promotions, fatter budgets or raises. It’s about the job and how to be effective at getting things done. How do you acquire the resources, information and advice you need, as well as the permission to keep moving ahead? Failure to make this relationship one of mutual respect and understanding limits you and your department’s chances of succeeding.
A lot of chiefs have a usually unrealistic assumptions and expectations about the nature of boss-subordinate relationships. They fail to recognize that it’s one of mutual dependency between two fallible human beings, so they avoid managing the relationship altogether or do so ineffectively. Some chiefs behave as though their bosses are not dependent on them. They don’t see how much the boss needs them to do his job efficiently, how the chief’s actions can severely hurt the boss and how they truly need to be cooperative, dependable and honest. Other managers see themselves as completely independent of their bosses. They gloss over how much information they need from the boss to perform their jobs well.
Other chiefs assume the boss is a clairvoyant who will magically know which information or help is needed and magically provide it. This is dangerously unrealistic. I remember the Mayor, who asked, “What is LDH and why does five inches of it cost so much?” She wasn’t stupid, we were, and we hadn’t educated her. Luckily for everyone the question was asked over coffee at our weekly breakfast meeting.
You need to understand that your relationship is between two imperfect humans; you need to understand the other person and yourself, especially regarding strengths, weaknesses, work styles and needs to develop and manage a healthy working relationship.
At a minimum, you need to appreciate your boss’s goals, pressures, strengths and weaknesses. Without this, you’re flying blind.
Developing a functional working relationship requires you to know your personal needs, strengths, weaknesses, and style or preferences. You’re not going to change your (or your boss’s) basic personality, but you can learn which traits, habits or behaviors impede or facilitate working together. With awareness, you can take actions that make the relationship more valuable.
A coach or mentor can help leaders incorporate knowledge and increase performance.
A manager is typically more dependent on the boss than vice versa. This dependence inevitably leads to a degree of frustration and anger when one’s actions or options are constrained by the boss’s decisions. The way in which a manager handles these frustrations largely depends on predispositions toward those who hold authority positions.
The Counter-Dependent Manager
Some people’s instinctive reaction is to resent the boss’s authority and rebel against his or her decisions. A chief, and I know this will come as a surprise, may even escalate a conflict to inappropriate levels.
Psychologists call this pattern of reaction to authority “counter-dependent” behavior. This chief will see the boss as the institutional enemy, a hindrance to progress and an obstacle to be circumvented or, at best, tolerated. It’s OK to be independent and defend your department and its members, but make sure it’s the fight you want to fight.
The Compliant Manager
At the other extreme are chiefs who ignore their anger and behave in a compliant fashion when the boss makes what they know to be a poor decision. These managers will agree and conform, even when a disagreement may be welcomed. Often, a boss wants push-back and would easily change a decision if given more information.
Such compliance is as much of an overreaction to authority as that of the counter-dependent manager. They prefer to see the boss as “Father Knows Best.” Their expectations are unrealistic.
The Passive-Aggressive Manager
A third style involves the passive-aggressive manager, who may appear to be compliant and cooperative, but holds counter-dependent beliefs of anger and rebelliousness. This manager can be even more dangerous and disruptive because the reaction is covert. Instead of arguing and expressing resentment, he or she will sabotage in subtle ways.
Reactions to Authority
Counter-dependence and over-dependence lead chiefs to hold naive views of a boss’s true role. Both views ignore that most bosses, like everyone else, are imperfect and fallible. Bosses don’t have unlimited time, encyclopedic knowledge or ESP, nor are they evil enemies. All bosses have their own pressures and concerns that are sometimes at odds with a chief’s wishes, and often for good reason.
Altering predispositions toward authority, especially at the extremes, is difficult without psychotherapy. Perhaps the mentor we mentioned earlier can help you work through these behaviors. In the end this behavior is destructive to everyone.
Obviously, such predispositions are rooted in one’s personality and family history. Even without extensive psychotherapy, however, awareness of these extremes — and the range between them — can be very useful.
You need to understand where your own predispositions fall and the implications they have when you interact with your boss.
Managing the Relationship
With a clear grasp of your boss and yourself, you can usually establish a way of working together that fits both of you. Ideally, it will be characterized by recognizable mutual expectations, which allow both of you to be more productive and beneficial to your department and to the constituents we all ultimately serve.
Developing a workable set of mutual expectations also requires you to communicate your own expectations to your boss.
Effective managers recognize that they probably underestimate what their bosses need to know. Managing the flow of information upward is particularly difficult if the boss doesn’t like to hear about problems.
Dependability and Honesty
Maintain a reputation of being available, open and honest, if you don’t know say so and get the answer.
Never intentionally be dishonest with our bosses, it’s easy to shade the truth or to minimize issues but it will erode your dependability and honesty which are crucial to managing the relationship.
No doubt, some of you will react to this article with disdain, arguing your jobs are complicated enough and you shouldn’t have to invest time and energy in managing upward. Then I’ve failed to demonstrate to you how managing the boss can actually simplify your job by eliminating the potential for severe problems. Recognize that this is a legitimate part of your position as the leader of your department and membership and that you are ultimately responsible for what they achieve. As such, you must establish and manage relationships with everyone on whom you depend — most importantly, the boss.
Summary: Checklist for Managing your Boss
Develop and maintain a relationship that:
- fits both your needs and styles,
- is characterized by mutual expectations,
- keeps your boss informed,
- is based on dependability and honesty, and
- selectively uses your boss’s time and resources.