Most people at a middle or senior level in large organisations have at least two bosses, usually dubbed the solid and dotted-line bosses’ — the classic matrix structure. Often, these bosses are conspicuous by their absence — tied up on other pressing projects and initiatives. When you do get a one-to-one, it is usually a hurried conference call focusing on their priorities, and often at odds with the “other” boss’ ideas. When you point this out, a frequent response is the insistence that you need to deliver on your objectives and should be capable of making it happen.
So, in order to make things happen, you have to be able to influence both of your bosses to feel bought-in to the way you are pushing things, and you have to single-handedly influence the myriad of peers — all of whom also have many bosses and stakeholders. Complicated work!
Increasingly, this problem fits into a global organisation where time zones and cultural differences exacerbate the complexity. But, let’s face it, that’s what you’re paid for, isn’t it?
Understanding This Challenge
The first point to recognise is that if you have more than one boss, you must be doing something right. Either your job is important enough to be included in two (or more) others’ responsibilities, objectives and empires, or (and let’s hope this is the case) you are highly valued for your experience, talents and personality. Everyone wants you to be on their team!
That said, it is often a very uncomfortable place to be. The problems here stem from one or more of the following…
- The different bosses have different agendas.
- One or both spend insufficient time with you to help you get the clarity you need.
- They are politically opposed.
- The complexity of the organisational structure is too ambiguous for anyone to make sense of it (which happens sometimes!), and nobody has yet stepped up to make it clear.
- One or both bosses are uncertain about what they can or should do and are therefore hedging their bets.
Underlying all of these, however, is the likelihood that the real problem lies with your uncertainty, and the symptoms above are convenient excuses. It is someone else’s fault, problem, or challenge. So, the solution to this is to step-up and start taking responsibility in order to make it happen — after all, that’s what you’re paid to do isn’t it?
After considering the ideas above, select the programme resources below which appear to have the most value in helping you to move forward on this challenge.
- Conflicting Agendas. The first place to start is to sit back and consider all of the key agendas which may be affecting the situation. These include personal and organisational. This exercise is a good way of thinking through the various positions people may hold regarding what you are trying to influence. Look at Understanding Conflicting Agendas for an exercise on this.
- Stakeholder Influence Process. Probably the most important element here is focus – what do you want to influence? Then you can map out your stakeholders to see who else you can work with to achieve your goal. Often indirect influence could be the route to unlocking this challenge. Here is an introduction to the Stakeholder Influence Process and also a How To Guide on How to Manage Your Stakeholders.
- Influence Profile. It may that you and the individual you are trying to influence has a different way of behaving when it comes to influence and engagement with others. Make sure and complete your Influence Profile so you know how you prefer to act, then you can move on to the next point to explore what to do (complete profile). You can also take a look at How to Influence with Style for more insight on this topic.
- Influencing Styles. Take a look at your results from the Influence Profile. These sections will help you to explore styles and also to decide how to adapt your behaviour (if appropriate) to become more influential with a given individual. More insight and guidance can be found in How to Develop Your Influencing Style.
- Compelling Visions. It could well be that you need to approach it in a different way. Building a compelling vision could help you to attract more interest. We cover this in How To Guide Engage with Your Stakeholders.
- Risks and Opportunities. Although not likely to be a major element of this challenge, you might get some inspiration here for how to position your influence in different ways by collaborating up with others. See Analysing Risks and Spotting Opportunities.
- Personal Power. Do you have the power to get their attention and achieve the influence you want? Apart from Sources of Personal Power there are many other places in the influence blog where different aspects of power are discussed. See How to Develop Your Personal Power.
- The powerful people in the organisation might be watching to see how you handle it — are you ready for a bigger role?
- Often, senior people at their best are simply doing what they are told to do — although they won’t admit it — so narrow down their room to think, and tell them what you need them to do — and why!
- If you are feeling out of control, why are you tolerating that situation?
- If you aspire to the next level, start acting like the next level and growing into the presence and bearing expected at that level.
Colin Gautrey is an author, coach, and trainer who specialises in the practical use of power and influence in large organisations. He has 25 years’ experience helping middle/senior professionals to survive, thrive and enjoy their work.
If you are ready to develop your influencing capability, become a member of Breakthrough Influence. If you are serious about becoming highly influential, fast, engage with Colin and he will help you get there in the most effective way possible.
Other articles by Colin:
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