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Jodi R. R. Smith Headshot

The Top Ten Things Your Boss Will Never Tell You But Wishes You Knew

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It was around this time of year, almost 20 years ago, when I first learned that managers are human too.

I was fresh out of college and all of my management theory coursework stated that the boss was hardworking and fair. The boss was a mentor and a motivator. The boss assigned work based upon ability and provided training to shore up skills. The fact that bosses had human foibles and failings were simply not mentioned. So, it came as a big surprise when a boss approached me about an open job requisition I was sourcing. The hiring manager had whittled the candidates down to the top three and references were being sought.

The top candidate's boss came to my office to explain that while his subordinate was likely the most qualified for and deserving of the position, he would not provide a recommendation for her. Apparently she was the only person keeping his department together. Her organizational knowledge and positional expertise were unmatched. If she were to be promoted, he would need to hire two or three new employees to replace her. Even with training, it would take over a year before his department would run smoothly again. He simply could not afford to let her go.

The gravity and reality of the situation were eye-opening. I learned that day that bosses are human... just like the rest of us. Even with the most professional of managers, there are some conversations they would prefer to avoid. Listed are the top 10.

  1. Fashion Police. Bosses have enough on their plates already. They do not want to add evaluating your attire. Review the written dress code, and observe the unwritten dress code. Remember what grandmother said, dress for the job you want, not the job you have.
  2. Total Package. Appropriate attire is just the beginning, as everything about you should communicate that you are a professional. This includes your entire visual résumé. Your visual résumé begins with your wardrobe, and includes your grooming and accessories. It continues to your workspace and your work.
  3. Your Attention, Please. Bosses do not want to monitor your electronic ADD. All cell phones and mobile devices should be turned off when in meetings or interacting with others. Social Media is a great equalizer. Your boss is on Facebook and Twitter too. Be wary of any job related posting ... especially if it is negative. Constantly checking your personal email distracts from your focus at work.
  4. Stealing Time. While not everyone punches a time-clock, bosses are not as oblivious as you may think. Being late to work, arriving late back from lunch and being tardy to meetings is noticed. Whether you are "just" checking your Facebook page, chatting on your cell phone with friends or shooting the breeze with colleagues, you are stealing time. The company is paying you to get work done.
  5. Office Soap Opera Stars. There is enough happening in the office. Do not add your own personal drama. This includes everything from flirting to full-blown affairs. Bosses want you to have boundaries between your personal and professional lives.
  6. More Picturesque Speech. Bosses cringe when you open your mouth and foul language, inappropriate topics or grammatically incorrect speech comes out. Your inability to monitor your mouth reflects poorly on everyone.
  7. Facts Not Feelings. The boss is pulled in many different directions already. When you need to report something, take the time to think before you speak. Present the facts of the situation. Panicking only adds stress. And speaking of facts, understand how the company makes money and how your part plays into the bigger picture. This knowledge will help to guide and direct your behavior.
  8. Anticipatory Actions. When there are issues, do bring the boss at least one possible solution. While understanding what caused the problem is relevant, blaming others and making excuses is unhelpful. Even when there are no immediate issues, take the time to look forward and plan ahead. It is better to act than react.
  9. Next Stop, Knowledge. The boss can not possibly be fully responsible for your career. You need to be responsible for your professional development. Research and source training that you need. Make it your goal to stay current in your field.
  10. Replace Yourself. If the boss finds you irreplaceable, your chances of promotion diminish greatly. Divide your job into manageable chunks and train others in your department as back-ups. This way, you will position yourself for promotion.

The candidate's boss was looking out for his own best interests. Fortunately, the hiring manager was savvy. He was able to read between the lines of the weak recommendation. The candidate was offered the job and she took it. Hopefully your boss would not attempt to sabotage your opportunity for promotion. But chances are there is something your boss wishes you knew, but is hesitant to tell you. An honest self-evaluation, using these top 10 tips as a starting point, may prove to be enlightening.

I would like to thank the following managers who took the time to tell me the things they would prefer not tell their employees and consultants who enlighten managers on such delicate communications: Tom Armour, Chantay Bridges, Marlene Caroselli, Kathi Elster, Pamela Feld, Diane Gayeski, Neil Gussman, Antoine Lane, Holly Paul, Don Phin, Jack Signorelli, Patricia Sigmon, Leslie Singer, as well as many other HARO responders who opted not to be mentioned by name.

Jodi's latest book, "The Etiquette Book: A Complete Guide to Modern Manners" is now available. Chapters 10 - 14 cover professional protocol in detail.

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