What your boss is really thinking

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Does your manager give off mixed messages that leave you dazed and confused? In my work with various companies and organizations I have found a big difference from what the boss thinks he or she is saying and what people in the organization are hearing.

So let’s look at some of the hidden messages your boss is communicating, even if it doesn’t match what he or she says, along with some tips on how to clarify the real message.

Pay attention to what your boss does, not necessarily what she says

Actions speak louder than words and although we might like our kids to do what we say and not what we do, the reality is our actions speak loud and clear about what’s important. Watch what your manager pays attention to. Watch what seems to get them stressed.

Some examples:

  • If the boss acts like nothing is wrong or tries to cover up the organization’s challenges, how can he or she expect employees to know there is a crisis? I’ve seen business owners attempt to “keep up appearances” when they really need to deliver some serious messages within the organization.
  • If the boss is asking a lot of detail about one specific area (i.e. sales) then it means that either his boss is putting pressure on sales, or there is a concern about sales, or the person in charge of sales may not be meeting expectations. If you’re in sales, it’s obvious – lay out the plan and get moving on execution. If you are not in sales, tie in what you are working on to how it impacts sales.
  • In sports you will often hear a rumor that a coach is about to be fired. Then the General Manager comes out in public and says they are 100% behind the coach. Then a few days or weeks later, the coach gets fired. If your boss has to defend you too many times in public it is a sign you’re going to be fired.
  • If the boss says times are tough and you have to watch expenses and yet you see some spending in areas that might be considered discretionary – the hidden message is, “We are prepared to spend money on something we consider important.” Continue to submit your ideas and justify how they will help the organization. If all spending is severely cut back and there is no evidence of “luxury” then chances are cash is really tight.

If you are the manager…

It’s better not to confuse the people who report to you. Be straight about your messaging and be prepared to repeat your message until it is understood. If you are focused on increasing sales – say so; if you are conserving cash flow but willing to spend wisely in some areas, say so; if someone isn’t performing, tell them and lay out the consequences; and if your organization is hurting, tell your employees so they can help you turn it around.

In the same way as we watch managers for clues as to their true intent, managers should observe their employee’s behaviour to see if they are “getting the correct message.”

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