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Economy

Why Your Boss Is Your Most Important Customer

It's become a corporate truism that making the boss look good makes employees look good. Some pro advice on how to actually make this most important business relationship work.

Focus on the top
Focus on the top
Ines Temple*

-Essay-

SANTIAGO — Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch used to say that the subordinate's task was to make his or her boss "shine," and to ensure they would in turn look good before their superiors. Thus, says Welch, if our bosses see us as useful in their success, we are destined to rise with them.

This is what we always need to remember in successfully managing our professional careers. Our boss is crucial to our promotion, rise and future career, and not just because anyone wanting a reference on the quality of our work will always seek out his or her opinion.

Our task is to ensure that the boss feels and knows we are valuable to the organization. We are more employable when, besides knowing how to get on with other people, we have good chemistry with the greatest number of possible collaborators. With the boss, this chemistry is even more important. Why? Well, would you employ someone you really don't like or had trouble communicating with? Would you not give key projects to someone with whom you like to work, meet and exchange ideas? Would you promote someone you distrust?

And yet many people are mortified by the prospect of viewing their boss as a client. Boss-employee relations can always become delicate with issues such as unmet expectations, real or perceived injustices, little or no recognition. It is also common to find people taking unresolved personal issues to work: problems with authority, teenage rebelliousness and all kinds of problems with the boss figure. Others adopt the victim's position or needlessly confront the boss without measuring the consequences of their attitude. They expend energies on issues that contribute nothing to their work.

Remember: Nobody wants to work with someone they dislike, or who constantly projects a foul mood.

Far from proposing a servile or submissive attitude, I propose that while we may assume that both sides bear responsibility for the relationship, it is particularly in the employee's interest that it should flow and there be mutual trust and respect.

Which is why we need a political sense. That means knowing that you are working with, through and in alliance with people. It means understanding which are the power networks and how the organization works. Part of this heightened political sense is clearly understanding that your boss is your chief customer.

Obviously, there are situations we can choose, even if we rarely choose our boss. If we think the boss we work with is unethical, has no values, does not merit admiration and steals our merits, we can always try to be transferred within the organizaition or even change jobs.

It may sound impractical, but it is a real decision, because living with the misfortune of a bad boss is condemning yourself to working in a state of misery. And if we aren't happy at work, it will be dificult to bring value to the enterprise. Suffering a bad boss means sinking in a sipral of utter professional dissatisfaction. Few things are worse than being stuck in a work environment we hate.

* Inés Temple is president of the employment agency Lee Hecht Harrison DBM for Peru and Chile.


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