I’m a senior leader in the marketing department of a large consumer goods company and I report to the VP of operations. My boss is tough as nails and pays attention only to numbers, not people. I can’t stand her style. I’m much more of a people person and I believe that the environment I create for people is really important. When I try to discuss this with her, she just laughs.
She often comes to my team meetings and yells at my people for trivial, irrelevant things. But my people work really hard and we had an amazing year last year.
She is effective in her job and has the ear of the executive team. I know I need her approval to get the promotion to VP that I believe I deserve. But I’m pretty sure she thinks I’m a big softie and will never be top leadership material. How can I win here?
Dear Big Softie,
The first question you need to ask yourself is “Do I want to win here?” You will be swimming upstream constantly, fighting your leader on nothing less than the culture of the organization. I’m not saying you can’t do it—you totally can—but you need to first understand what you are taking on. It might be easier for you to go find a culture that better suits your world view than to try to change the one you are in.
If you decide to stay, you will need to suit up—preferably with armor. And if you have a big horse you can ride into battle and a sword to wave around, all the better. I am only partially teasing. Honestly—you are in for a fight and you will need your warrior energy.
First, you will need to learn to speak the language of numbers. You can be a people person and speak numbers at the same time—it’s just another skill. Pay attention to the numbers your boss cares about most and start every meeting with them, pointing out how you and your team have influenced them for the better.
At the same time, make sure every single one of your people has clear goals with milestones so you can measure exactly how amazing they are. Share those metrics with your boss. But be ready: you just may find that your people aren’t as amazing as you thought they were. Providing some course correction in this case will make you a more effective manager.
Where else can you track numbers to show how effective you are? Find out and nail them.
The hardest thing for you to do in this whole process will be to push back on your boss. For example, you have the right to draw a boundary and ask your boss to stop yelling at your people. Practice this with a friend and get the wording just right. Point out that she is undermining your authority by superseding you in meetings. Ask her to give you the feedback and to trust you to share it the way you see fit. It sounds like she is a bit of a bully—and bullies tend to back down when challenged. She will probably respect you for it.
Give yourself six months and see if there is any change. You can always ask her what she needs to see for you to be promoted, but given the profile you have provided I suspect she expects you to read her mind and simply start doing the job you want to be promoted into. Show her how capable you are instead of asking for her approval.
I understand if you decide you aren’t up for all of this—after all, your full time job is plenty. You just need to decide for yourself how hard you want to work.
About the author
Madeleine Homan-Blanchard is a master certified coach, author, speaker, and cofounder of Blanchard Coaching Services. Madeleine’s Advice for the Well Intentioned Manager is a regular Saturday feature for a very select group: well intentioned managers. Leadership is hard—and the more you care, the harder it gets. Join us here each week for insight, resources, and conversation.
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