What to Look For in Your Next Boss
Last week we talked about how to identify seven types of career limiting bosses, and four ways to deal with them. This week I want to talk about the positives.
When you're searching for your next boss, what do you want to look for?
For me, it boils down to three types of characteristics.
First, look for somebody who is really well regarded in the organization. You care about this on a few levels.
You want them to be well regarded by seniors, so that they're somebody who's going places. They're on the move. They're on the way up. The benefit of this is you can get pulled along with them, or at a minimum, have more headroom to grow.
Check that they’re well regarded by juniors, because that says a lot about what it's going to be like to work for them. In fact, that's a great litmus test for whether they’re going to be a great boss, a career limiting boss, or something in between.
And remember to check to see whether you’re like those juniors. Glowing reports from tough and hardy folks who don’t mind a boss that pushes them around may mean a nightmare boss for you if you’re more sensitive.
It’s also helpful if they are well regarded by colleagues. The more senior your boss, the more important it becomes that they can get along with peers who lead other parts of the organization. When there’s conflict or lack of respect, it’s much harder for you and the rest of the team to navigate the politics and get things done.
Ideally, they would have a strong reputation with the external ecosystem (e.g., customers, clients, partners, suppliers, competitors). This is important so that you’re not only learning from the best, but also benefitting from their “halo” effect. For example, researchers have always wanted to work in my father’s lab because it helps their careers to be able to say they’ve worked under the highly respected Dr. Shu Chien (that’s my father).
If your prospective boss hasn’t quite reached that august level of seniority and experience, at least make sure they don’t have a bad reputation in the marketplace.
The second set of characteristics to look for is the extent to which they are well adjusted. That means look for somebody who has enough confidence to give you autonomy and room to grow. In other words, look for someone who is comfortable in their own skin.
When your boss feels confident and secure in his or her own role, they’re less likely to be a gatekeeper, or someone who hoards all of the client conversations and the senior management visibility for themselves.
If you can’t find somebody well adjusted, then at least see if you can avoid a boss who's insecure or, heaven forbid, even neurotic. It takes more time and energy to work for someone you have to talk down from the ledge regularly before getting on with the strategy and tasks at hand.
Then the third set of characteristics revolves around looking for somebody who is going to have good chemistry with you and vice versa, and also with the rest of the team. When there is interpersonal or emotional strife, it’s hard to focus and produce the best results.
This is really important because when you have a style that does not mesh with or complement that of your boss, then life can be really tough. It's the root of so many misunderstandings.
You don’t need to have the same style as your boss, but you don’t want it to be a combination that clashes. And since the only person you can change is yourself, be prepared to be the one who makes the adjustment if an adjustment is needed.
Look for somebody you're going to be able to get on with and have conversations with without it feeling like hard work. When there’s good chemistry, your boss is much more likely to be supportive of you (and the other people in the team). And it's much more likely to be a positive culture and environment for you to work in.
All of this said, there are two caveats to keep in mind.
It’s all relative
First, it’s all relative, so what may be a great culture for me may not seem like a great culture or style for you. It's very personal. So when you're talking to other people that work for or with your prospective boss, put a filter on it just to see how similar or dissimilar you are to the person who is giving you the feedback.
“Two out of three ain’t bad”
Then, the second caveat is that I think that it's more realistic to adopt what I call the Meat Loaf (as in the singer) theory. Which is “two out of three ain't bad”. If you can just get two out of those three qualities in your next boss (i.e., well regarded, well adjusted, good chemistry), then you're probably in very good shape.
It's hard to be a perfect boss. In fact, nobody is a perfect boss. The person just has to be a good enough boss for you, and that can be a very personal choice.
It’s wishful to think that we can find the equivalent of Mary Poppins, who is “practically perfect in every way”, when we’re searching for our next boss. Instead, let's go with Meat Loaf and not Mary Poppins here. The Meat Loaf approach gives us a much better chance of finding a boss that's good, or even great, for our careers.
What do you look for?
Now, I'd love to hear from you. What do you look for when you're looking for a really great boss? Leave me a comment below and let me know what you think.