Stop Trying to Change Your Boss

The Leadership Curve, Part 2


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

“If only my boss would communicate better about our team’s goals. She is standing in the way of my development, and I want out of her department,” Sally insisted.

Leadership Curve image“If only I could get my boss to be a better mentor, my career would really take off,” Bill said for the tenth time.

What do these statements have in common? One common thread is the expectation that the person speaking can get someone else to change. Over the years, clients have come to me expressing great frustration with their boss or executive management team. Oftentimes, this frustration is justified and understandable.

Typically, she or he is so focused on getting the other person to change that they have forgotten one thing: You can’t make another person change.

You are probably nodding your head in agreement, or thinking, “That’s obvious.”

Remember though, sometimes smart people forget (or overlook) simple things. We touched on this subject briefly on Part 1 of The Leadership Curve article.

This is especially true of driven and determined people who set out with big goals and visions of success. It is difficult for someone with that profile to comprehend how the boss or co-worker doesn’t see what is obvious to him or her.

The Ninja Way

I am here to suggest another way. In each of the examples above, I worked with my client to find another way to frame the situation and win in the long-term.

This method is a bit more nuanced than direct confrontation and will allow you to ninja (your way in), as opposed to making demands or insisting on being right.

Last week, I wrote about Jim and his recent promotion to Sales Manager. Jim struggled at first because no matter how he asked, or who he asked in his company, no one would give him a straight answer. He knew his sales numbers, but could get no further guidance.

Jim could have insisted on fighting a righteous battle, and lost. He could have decided it was unfair that his company provided no training or resources for his role, and he would have been right.

Instead, Jim began to formulate a plan that integrated three things:

  1. Managing up effectively to his boss (thinking strategically and adapting his communication style),
  2. Managing out to stakeholders in the organization (leveraging already strong peer relationships to boost his own performance), and
  3. Managing down to the unique individuals on his team (learning how to engage and hold each team member accountable)


Before Jim could integrate any ninja moves into his campaign to succeed as a leader, he had to apply three concepts to his behavior:

  1. Detach emotionally and give up on being “right”
  2. Respond timely versus reacting knee-jerk fashion to stressful work situations
  3. Create a plan to meet the inevitable, repetitive challenges


Sounds easy, right? Maybe not, but Jim was thankfully someone with high emotional intelligence and was willing to adapt and get out of his comfort zone.

In the next post, I will revisit the examples at the beginning of this article and show how each person adapted by integrating effective and win/win ninja moves that boosted their success and satisfaction.