Edwin M Sarmiento is a Filipino Microsoft Data Platform MVP and Microsoft Certified Master from Ottawa, Canada specializing in high availability, disaster recovery, and system infrastructures running on the Microsoft server technology stack. He is very passionate about technology but has interests in music, professional and organizational development, leadership, and management matters when not working with databases.  

He lives up to his primary mission statement – “To help people and organizations grow and develop their full potential as God has planned for them.”

Let’s say your boss walks over to your desk one day and tells you that they recognize your hard work and contributions to the team. They tell you that you have their support on whatever project you’re currently working on, and before they walk away, their final words are, "You own this, I want this result; build the team you need, and just make it happen. Come to me if you need any obstacles cleared."

Sound too good to be true?

Unfortunately, it likely is too good to be true. The reality, for most of us is quite the opposite and your boss doesn't trust you to get the job done.

Maybe they lack the overall vision of what they expect the team to deliver as contribution to the organization, or they’re more than happy to maintain the status quo, or don’t want to evaluate new technologies that could help improve the organization.

If you can relate to this, you’re not alone. These are the exact sentiments of the people surveyed when asked about their working relationships with their boss. It’s frustrating. You’re just glad to have the option to work remotely - every single day.

You may have heard of the phrase, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit bosses.” And while there is some truth to this, wouldn’t it be great if we had the capabilities and skills to turn the tables around to successfully influence our bosses? It’s simple, but it’s not going to be easy.

I’ve divided this process into three steps.

Shoe-shifting

Empathic intelligence, or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, allows you to really understand what and how the other person feels. Keep in mind, in order to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, it requires you to step out from your own first.

Think about this for a second. While you try to fight fires and troubleshoot issues as part of your day-to-day tasks, your boss has other things to worry about. While you are struggling to get the buy-in of the stakeholders to implement a new functionality, your boss might be working to get the new IT budget approved. This means that your struggles, challenges, and goals are not the same as the ones held by your boss. To really understand why they do what they do, you need to focus on gaining their perspective.

The late Dr. Stephen Covey said it best, “seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Properly influencing and managing your boss to get them on your side requires understanding of who they are and what their responsibilities are.

Simple, right? But I didn’t say it is easy. When you’re spending the majority of your time in front of your computer analyzing and managing tons of data, exercising empathic intelligence is probably not at the forefront of your thinking. So, how do you do it? Here are a few examples of how you can better understand, and ultimately influence, your boss.

1. Know their role. I don’t mean their job title, but their job description. To know more about what is required of their role, you can either ask your HR department for your boss’ job description or research similar job descriptions from online postings. Asking them directly may trigger an unexpected response, like suspicion or defensiveness.

By learning more about their job description, you are able to gain an increased sense of what their responsibilities are and what is expected of them. Then, ask yourself the question, “how would I feel and act if I had the same job description?” This is where you start to feel empathetic towards your boss, and ultimately, understand how to make their life easier.

  1. Learn how to ask meaningful questions. Let’s face it, the questions that we commonly ask fall under binary questions - only creating the opportunity to  provide one of two possible answers.

Do you need this report now?

Can we backup the database?

Is my vacation request approved?

While there is nothing wrong with asking binary questions, asking them limits your ability to easily extract additional, meaningful information through asking these questions. Instead of asking “Do you need this report now?” you can ask, “How will this report affect the profitability of the business?” You can rephrase the “Can we backup this database?” with “What is the impact of not having this backup?” I’ll leave the question about your vacation request for you to play around with.

The point is to learn how to ask meaningful and open-ended questions to learn more about your boss. Their response can tell you more about what they think and feel. The better you get at asking open-ended questions, the more information you can glean from your boss.

  1. Lighten their load. I’m not suggesting that you take over your boss’ entire workload, but if you are already familiar with what your boss’ responsibilities are, you’ll be able to easily find some light tasks to assist them with, without limiting your own workflow.

A simple example of lightening your boss’ workload is by providing them with an “insight”. For instance, if one of your boss’ responsibilities is to maintain and improve service quality, you could create a simple, automated report that shows the trend of the average lifecycle of a ticket or an incident–from creation to resolution–assuming you have an existing ticketing system. This “insight” not only provides information about the operational state of your systems, but also allows your boss to make intelligent decisions, which is another one of their responsibilities.

Shoe-shifting, or empathetic intelligence, is the first of the three principles that you need to learn in order to successfully influence your boss. You can take these lessons and apply them immediately to see how they affect your relationship with your boss. And let the outcome be the judge.

Stay tuned for the next part of this series.