There is plenty of literature and training available on how to lead your team. However there is remarkably little on an equally key skill – how to lead your boss.
Bosses are constantly told to listen to their subordinates and criticized when they don’t but it’s just as important for engaged managers to be confident and assertive with their bosses and push back when required – to support their boss in achieving his or her objectives. This rarely happens because it’s easier to simply whine and paint the boss as a dangerous, unpredictable lion who will tear you to shreds if you bring him or her bad news or an alternative point of view.
But maybe we can learn something useful from lion tamers. They’re locked up in a cage with a lion in a hugely vulnerable situation but somehow manage to operate confidently and effectively. What are their secrets?
1. Feed the lion: Lion tamers feed the lion themselves so the lion associates the provision of food with the lion tamer. What is the food your lion needs? For some it’s performance, for some it’s regular updates, for others alignment with a pet agenda. Needless to say lion tamers keep their lion well fed before they enter the cage. And they do not whinge about the fact that they need to feed the lion in order to do their job. They see it as an integral part of the job.
2. Put the lion on a pedestal: Lions are always kept on a high stool so that they rarely experience the lion tamer looking down on them from a higher position. This allows them to feel dominant and secure. Respect your lion and learn from the parts you can look upto. If you focus on their shortcomings then you’re tempted into the cardinal lion taming sin of looking down at them and making them feel threatened. You do so at your own peril.
3. Never corner a lion: Cages are circular so that a tamer never inadvertently has a lion in a corner feeling threatened. If it does it’s likely to attack. In a circular cage if a tamer accidentally gets too close for comfort the lion can simply walk around the circle to a more comfortable distance. If the tamer is too far the lion won’t move at all. By keeping the right distance between himself and the lion the tamer is able to manipulate the lion to move to exactly the spot he wants. If you have any feedback to provide your boss – give it in private. Don’t corner him in public.
4. Direct the lion’s attention:
The crack of the whip is used to direct the attention of the lion (especially away from the tamer’s body!). It is NEVER used to hit the lion. If a tamer even accidently hits a lion he is likely to end up mangled beyond recognition. Pay attention to what works in directing your lion’s attention to the area you need him to focus on.
5. Look the lion in the eye: You need to respect your lion but respect yourself too. Lions can literally smell fear through the pheromes excreted in ‘scared sweat’. They are far more likely to attack if the tamer shows fear. Bosses appreciate confident employees as long as they see them as focusing on contribution rather than rebellion. Handle your boss with respect but remember – you have something important to contribute too. It’s why the company hired you.
And if you get all this right your lion will jump through hoops of fire for you and you can both turn to the audience, bow and receive your standing ovations.
If you decide to remain in the ring then you need to be willing to put in the effort and concentration required to work with lions because if you don’t – sooner or later – you’re lunch.