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zuluGirL PSalm 121 iNspireD LaugHter-addiCt Grad student
A quarter-century ago, John Gabarro and John Kotter introduced a powerful new lens through which to view the manager–boss relationship: one that recognized the mutual dependence of the participants.
The fact is, bosses need cooperation, reliability, and honesty from their direct reports. Managers, for their part, rely on bosses for making connections with the rest of the company, for setting priorities, and for obtaining critical resources. If the relationship between you and your boss is rocky, then it is you who must begin to manage it. When you take the time to cultivate a productive working relationship—by understanding your boss’s strengths and weaknesses, priorities, and work style—everyone wins.
In the 25 years since it was published, this article has truly improved the practice of management. Its simple yet powerful advice has changed the way people work, enhanced countless manager–boss relationships, and improved the performance of corporations in ways that show up on the bottom line. Over the years, it has become a staple at business schools and corporate training programs worldwide.
To many people, the phrase “managing your boss” may sound unusual or suspicious. Because of the traditional top-down emphasis in most organizations, it is not obvious why you need to manage relationships upward—unless, of course, you would do so for personal or political reasons. But we are not referring to political maneuvering or to apple polishing. We are using the term to mean the process of consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the company.
Recent studies suggest that effective managers take time and effort to manage not only relationships with their subordinates but also those with their bosses. These studies also show that this essential aspect of management is sometimes ignored by otherwise talented and aggressive managers. Indeed, some managers who actively and effectively supervise subordinates, products, markets, and technologies assume an almost passively reactive stance vis-à-vis their bosses. Such a stance almost always hurts them and their companies.
If you doubt the importance of managing your relationship with your boss or how difficult it is to do so effectively, consider for a moment the following sad but telling story:
Frank Gibbons was an acknowledged manufacturing genius in his industry and, by any profitability standard, a very effective executive. In 1973, his strengths propelled him into the position of vice president of manufacturing for the second largest and most profitable company in its industry. Gibbons was not, however, a good manager of people. He knew this, as did others in his company and his industry. Recognizing this weakness, the president made sure that those who reported to Gibbons were good at working with people and could compensate for his limitations. The arrangement worked well.
In 1975, Philip Bonnevie was promoted into a position reporting to Gibbons. In keeping with the previous pattern, the president selected Bonnevie because he had an excellent track record and a reputation for being good with people. In making that selection, however, the president neglected to notice that, in his rapid rise through the organization, Bonnevie had always had good-to-excellent bosses. He had never been forced to manage a relationship with a difficult boss. In retrospect, Bonnevie admits he had never thought that managing his boss was a part of his job.
Fourteen months after he started working for Gibbons, Bonnevie was fired. During that same quarter, the company reported a net loss for the first time in seven years. Many of those who were close to these events say that they don’t really understand what happened. This much is known, however: While the company was bringing out a major new product—a process that required sales, engineering, and manufacturing groups to coordinate decisions very carefully—a whole series of misunderstandings and bad feelings developed between Gibbons and Bonnevie.
For example, Bonnevie claims Gibbons was aware of and had accepted Bonnevie’s decision to use a new type of machinery to make the new product; Gibbons swears he did not. Furthermore, Gibbons claims he made it clear to Bonnevie that the introduction of the product was too important to the company in the short run to take any major risks.
As a result of such misunderstandings, planning went awry: A new manufacturing plant was built that could not produce the new product designed by engineering, in the volume desired by sales, at a cost agreed on by the executive committee. Gibbons blamed Bonnevie for the mistake. Bonnevie blamed Gibbons.
A manager we’ll call Tom was a midlevel sales executive at a Fortune 500 company. After a dozen or so years there, he was thriving—he made his numbers, he was well liked, he got consistently positive reviews. He applied for a promotion that would put him in charge of a high-profile worldwide product-alignment initiative, confident that he was the top candidate and that this was the logical next move for him, a seemingly perfect fit for his skills and ambitions. His track record was solid. He’d made no stupid mistakes or career-limiting moves, and he’d had no run-ins with upper management. He was stunned, then, when a colleague with less experience got the job. What was the matter?
As far as Tom could tell, nothing. Everyone was happy with his work, his manager assured him, and a recent 360-degree assessment confirmed her view. Tom was at or above the norm in every area, strong not only in delivering results but also in problem solving, strategic thinking, and inspiring others to top performance. “No need to reinvent yourself,” she said. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. Go with your strengths.”
But how? Tom was at a loss. Should he think more strategically? Become even more inspiring? Practice problem solving more intently?
It’s pretty easy and straightforward to improve on a weakness; you can get steady, measurable results through linear development—that is, by learning and practicing basic techniques. But the data from our decades of work with tens of thousands of executives all over the world has shown us that developing strengths is very different. Doing more of what you already do well yields only incremental improvement. To get appreciably better at it, you have to work on complementary skills—what we call nonlinear development. This has long been familiar to athletes as cross-training. A novice runner, for example, benefits from doing stretching exercises and running a few times a week, gradually increasing mileage to build up endurance and muscle memory. But an experienced marathoner won’t get significantly faster merely by running ever longer distances. To reach the next level, he needs to supplement that regimen by building up complementary skills through weight training, swimming, bicycling, interval training, yoga, and the like.
So it is with leadership competencies. To move from good to much better, you need to engage in the business equivalent of cross-training. If you’re technically adept, for instance, delving even more deeply into technical manuals won’t get you nearly as far as honing a complementary skill such as communication, which will make your expertise more apparent and accessible to your coworkers.
In this article we provide a simple guide to becoming a far more effective leader. We will see how Tom identified his strengths, decided which one to focus on and which complementary skill to develop, and what the results were. The process is straightforward, but complements are not always obvious. So first we’ll take a closer look at the leadership equivalent of cross-training.The Interaction Effect
In cross-training, the combination of two activities produces an improvement—an interaction effect—substantially greater than either one can produce on its own. There’s nothing mysterious here. Combining diet with exercise, for example, has long been known to be substantially more effective in losing weight than either diet or exercise alone.
In our previous research we found 16 differentiating leadership competencies that correlate strongly with positive business outcomes such as increased profitability, employee engagement, revenue, and customer satisfaction. Among those 16, we wondered, could we find pairs that would produce significant interaction effects?
The finding: The best leaders tend to be outsiders who don’t have a great deal of experience.
The research: Gautam Mukunda studied political, business, and military leaders, categorizing them into two groups: “filtered leaders,” insiders whose careers followed a normal progression; and “unfiltered leaders,” who either were outsiders with little experience or got their jobs through fluke circumstances. He then compared the groups’ effectiveness; for instance, with U.S. presidents, he looked at historians’ rankings from the past 60 years. He discovered that the unfiltered leaders were the most effective—and also the least effective—while highly filtered leaders landed in the middle of the pack.
The challenge: Is searching for a leader with a long, impressive résumé a waste of time? Is experience a predictor of mediocre performance? Professor Mukunda, defend your research.
Mukunda: I was surprised by how unambiguous the data were, but they confirmed what I suspected: If you choose an insider who you know can do the job well, most of the time that person won’t perform any differently from any other top candidate with lots of experience. Such insiders—I call them “filtered leaders”—might be good, but they probably won’t be brilliant. It’s the unfiltered leaders, the outsiders without lots of experience, who perform the very best.
HBR: So should firms always hire outsiders without experience?
No, because those people are also more likely to crash and burn. Though the best leaders—Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln—were unfiltered, the things that made them so effective, such as their ability to think differently and not feel beholden to a certain way of doing things, often lead to terrible results. Unfiltered leaders are high risk, high reward. Filtered leaders—like Tim Cook and Neville Chamberlain—have deep knowledge and can be very effective in a stable situation. But they often can’t adapt to extreme, sudden change or are unable to disrupt the status quo, which an outsider feels freer to do.
How can experience and knowledge be a drawback for a leader facing change?
Because they’re precisely what prevent you from approaching situations any differently than other experienced people would. Filtered leaders will usually make basically the same decisions. Even if they’re good decisions, their leadership doesn’t have impact. Think of Thomas Jefferson. According to my theory, he’s definitely filtered, so he should be in the middle of the pack in terms of his impact as a president. And he is.
But he’s consistently ranked as one of the top presidents.
This is why I used him as a counterfactual test of my theory. Why is he ranked so high? He completed the Louisiana Purchase. He doubled the size of the country peacefully. But the other filtered leaders who could have been president at that moment, Madison and Adams, would have done the same thing. In fact, Madison wouldn’t have tried to get a constitutional amendment giving the federal government the explicit power to add territory. Jefferson did, and it delayed the purchase so much it might have fallen apart, but Madison (among others) convinced him to forget about it and let the purchase move forward. Jefferson wasn’t bad, but he was not impactful. Not special. You can be a great manager, but you won’t have impact if there are 100 other great managers who would do the same thing you would.
Did you really just dis Thomas Jefferson?
He did a great job as president; he just didn’t matter that much. Madison or Adams would have done a good job, too. The very best leader is one who makes decisions no one else could, and those decisions work out.
Lincoln is the ultimate example of the unfiltered leader. Two-time loser in Senate races, and so outside the system that he wasn’t even listed in the top 10 Republican presidential candidates in some newspapers in 1860. Most other Republican leaders thought the South was bluffing about secession and would have let them go peacefully, expecting them to return soon enough. Only Lincoln had the capacity to say “We won’t give up Fort Sumter without a fight,” to come up with a strategy that forced the South to fire the first shot, and to unite the North behind him. I think if anyone other than Lincoln had been president, the North would have lost the war—if there even was a war.
But that was an accident of history. People didn’t consciously elect an outsider in anticipation of civil war.
Life is short. You’ll never be ready when it ends. Do your best to make what happens between then and now as amazing as possible.
— Dau Voire (via kushandwizdom)
Finding opportunities for young people is a critical challenge for Africa, where 62 percent of the population—more than 600 million young people—is below the age of 25. With no signs that population growth will slow in the decades to come, it is imperative that Africa leverage the talent and energy of its youth to create dramatically higher levels of prosperity and equality and avoid the latent risks of unemployment and social instability.
Today, Africa finds itself in a precarious position on this most important issue. Youth unemployment is three times the continent’s overall average. The World Bank found that young people under 25 represent three-fifths of sub-Saharan Africa’s unemployed population, and 72 percent of the youth population lives on less than $2 a day. To help their families, 30 percent of children between the ages of 5 and 14 are forced to work, which robs them of the educational opportunities that could break their families’ cycles of intergenerational poverty.
So what does the average unemployed youth look like in Africa? She is an 18-year-old girl, living in a rural area, literate but not attending school. Building her skills, reaping her energy, and realizing her aspirations would help every African country improve its living standards and ignite economic growth. Empowering her with opportunities to reach and apply her full potential is both our most important challenge and our most vital opportunity.
I often put myself in the shoes of that 18-year-old girl, full of promise but with few opportunities to apply it. She is part of a generation of young Africans who are the most globally connected people ever to have lived on the continent. Although they can see the social and economic progress occurring elsewhere in the world, she and her fellow young Africans are largely isolated from that progress.
Offering this girl a quality education is critical for her success. However, only two-thirds of youth who start elementary school in Africa graduate, and only one in ten African students continues on to tertiary education. Even when she obtains her university degree, she will most likely have trouble finding a skilled job in Africa—which is why the continent loses an estimated 20,000 skilled workers each year to more developed economies.
Simply put, Africa is sitting on a time bomb unless it creates its own jobs through the ingenuity, ability, and skill of its own people. It is our job as leaders to ensure that the millions of young people who are willing to put in the work to improve their future have every opportunity to experiment, learn, adapt—and eventually succeed. We must use this significant inflection point in the continent’s history to guarantee that the entrepreneurial nimbleness, grit, and vigor of Africa’s youth can be utilized to help lift the economies of Africa.
The way we educate our youth in Africa will make all the difference. Entrepreneurship must be an integral part of every young person’s education. We need to impart not only the technical skills of entrepreneurship, but also the mindset of the entrepreneur, through our formal and informal education systems. To help address this challenge, some colleagues and I founded the African Leadership Academy (ALA) in South Africa to educate thousands of job creators and problem solvers for Africa. We accept 100 young leaders a year to participate in the program. They’re chosen from over 3,000 applicants from over 48 countries on the continent.
At the center of our strategy is ALA’s Leadership, Entrepreneurship, and African Studies (LEA) curriculum, which prepares each young leader to creatively confront the continent’s most pressing challenges through interdisciplinary, experiential educational opportunities. In LEA’s series of design challenges, students leverage their ingenuity through team-based exercises to brainstorm, prototype, and test new ideas for addressing tough social problems. Using entrepreneurship case studies, students learn about modern African trailblazers in business, politics, and social affairs, giving them a set of inspirational role models to follow. The young leaders at ALA also have access to capital (in the form of micro venture capital or microfinance) to help them turn their own business concepts into reality. Over the last four years, 45 different ventures have been launched at ALA through this methodology—real, live, small-scale enterprises that will one day form the roots of much larger enterprises that can help create jobs on the continent for our youth.
Behind this is our philosophy that if you give a young person a chance to get his or her hands dirty as an entrepreneur, you will inspire and prepare that person to one day launch entrepreneurial ventures on a much larger scale—ventures that can potentially create thousands of jobs. If you do not believe this, ask Mark Zuckerberg how the small computer project he launched in his dormitory at Harvard influenced what eventually became Facebook. Or ask Michael Dell how the small project he launched in his dormitory to assemble computers at the University of Texas when he was 19 influenced what eventually became Dell Computer.
The 400 young leaders currently in the ALA system (on campus and at colleges around the world) , hailing from 43 African countries, are truly amazing examples of what the continent’s youth can do with the right mindset, experiences, and skills. They represent the extent of what could be achieved if all young Africans were given access to high-quality entrepreneurial education and practical opportunities to apply their ideas, ambitions, and talents to real-world opportunities and challenges.
To create a supply of jobs for Africa’s youth and a wave of empowered young people to fill them, coordinated investments are needed in each part of the educational pipeline, from early childhood through to the entry-level labor market. Indeed, success requires the coalescing of today’s fragmented landscape of youth development programs into a harmonized network of interventions that weave together households, communities, schools, and companies in service of Africa’s youth.
The Harambee Youth Employment Accelerator in South Africa is another promising example of how corporations and nonprofits, working together, can provide high-potential young people with the experiences they need to be successful in the marketplace. Harambee works with its South African corporate partners, including Hollard Insurance (one of the largest insurance companies in South Africa), and Nando’s (a large chain of fast-food restaurants), to prepare and place first-time workers in entry-level jobs. Recruited through a text-message-based application system, Harambee participants take part in a three-month bridging program that teaches them functional, technical, and interpersonal skills. Using reality-based simulations, Harambee students learn how to interact in the workplace, manage conflict, and deal with failure—all assets proven to increase the success of new employees. Through its partners, Harambee is filling more than 3,000 jobs across South Africa with its graduates—all young people below the age of 25—validating an exciting new human capital model that has the potential to scale and benefit thousands more youth across Africa.
It is no coincidence that Harambee is the Swahili word for “all together.” To decisively reorient Africa toward increasing success, equity, and stability, we must fully empower the continent’s greatest untapped resource: its youth. Providing access to entrepreneurial opportunities and experiences will ensure that all young people have the opportunity to develop their talent and realize their dreams.
Africa may be known as the continent of gold, oil, manganese, and diamonds, but our true wealth lies in our people, especially our young people. Only by unlocking the potential of this treasure—by giving them a chance to work or to create their own jobs—will we finally achieve the prosperity that our minerals have so far failed to bring to our continent.
This life is what you make it. No matter what, you’re going to mess up sometimes, it’s a universal truth. But the good part is you get to decide how you’re going to mess it up. Girls will be your friends - they’ll act like it anyway. But just remember, some come, some go. The ones that stay with you through everything - they’re your true best friends. Don’t let go of them. Also remember, sisters make the best friends in the world. As for lovers, well, they’ll come and go too. And baby, I hate to say it, most of them - actually pretty much all of them are going to break your heart, but you can’t give up because if you give up, you’ll never find your soulmate. You’ll never find that half who makes you whole and that goes for everything. Just because you fail once, doesn’t mean you’re gonna fail at everything. Keep trying, hold on, and always, always, always believe in yourself, because if you don’t, then who will, sweetie? So keep your head high, keep your chin up, and most importantly, keep smiling, because life’s a beautiful thing and there’s so much to smile about.
— Marilyn Monroe (via kushandwizdom)