Managing Up, The Ninja Way

The Leadership Curve, Part 3


managing up ninja moves imageThis week I would like to talk further about what happens when you stop trying to change your boss. Some of the most significant breakthroughs my coaching clients have experienced have come through the recognition that the only person you can change is YOU.  The breakthrough comes once we move from intellectual comprehension (the easy part) to emotional acceptance (the part we all struggle with).


What is The Ninja Way?


Taking that thought a step further brings us to what I refer to as “The Ninja Way.” I define this as having strength without aggression, acting with emotional intelligence and taking a long view. This ninja seeks to understand and gain a mastery of his or her environment without struggle or wasted energy and looks for win/win outcomes.


Greg’s Dilemma


Here is the problem “Greg” presented to me. “If only I could convince our CEO and executive team to broaden the risk parameters of our company’s private equity portfolio. There are so many more deals I could originate,” he complained.


Greg struggled for some time with his company’s risk-averse investment style. He thought if only he worded his proposals more cleverly, or used more persuasive industry-specific examples, he would get through to them. He wasted a great deal of energy on this approach.


Then one day, when Greg’s frustrations were at a peak, we had a breakthrough discussion. After asking Greg a series questions about his boss’ past behaviors, philosophy and values, I saw a light go on for him.


The “Aha” Moment



As we explored the essence of the problem, it dawned on Greg that his boss had a paternalistic and controlling worldview. The boss had benevolent intentions. Nevertheless, he had a high need for controlling every aspect of the business, which shut down creativity and independent decision-making.


Greg’s conclusion? That no matter how he tried, he was unlikely to change his boss’ world-view, values or core beliefs. Furthermore, Greg decided he had joined the wrong company and that the culture was a poor fit.


The leadership Curve - Part 3 image

The Solution


From that day forward, Greg focused on two things:


  1. Bringing in only those investment deals that fit the company’s narrow parameters so he could point to substantial successes and end on a high note
  2. Identifying the next company whose record demonstrated an appetite for broader, but intelligently calculated risks


Ninja Moves


Greg moved on in less than a year. He was able to do so because he stopped trying to change his boss. Instead of a blunt and direct approach, he decided to learn these ninja moves:


  1. Detaching emotionally and giving up on being right
  2. Understanding the underlying motivations of others
  3. Managing his boss’ risk aversion by anticipating questions
  4. Adapting to his boss’ communication style and pace
  5. Letting the boss win in the short-term while building a strategy for long-term personal success in the right culture


In some cases, the answer is to move on gracefully. In others, it is to mend fences and look for common ground. Greg freed up a lot of energy wasted on attempting to change others, and instead poured that energy into creating a better future.

Managing Up | Ninja Moves

  • Detach emotionally -- give up on being right

  • Understand the motivations of others

  • Anticipate your boss’ questions and concerns

  • Adapt to boss' communication style and pace

  • Let the boss win in the short-term; build a strategy for your long-term success