The cow doesn’t want to be ridden and the ride is rough
Growing up next to a farm with a tribe of reckless boys, I had lots of painful and failed attempts at riding cows. If you’ve ever tried this, you’d know that it feels pretty similar to “managing up” a tone-deaf boss.
Like cows, tone-deaf bosses:
- Don’t enjoy be ridden (e.g. “managed up”).
- Ensure the ride is very uncomfortable and possibly risky for you
- Purposefully attempt to rub you off the fence
- Will throw you off (Falling off a cow is like falling out of favor with your boss: Bruising and dangerous for your career)
Inversely, in-tune bosses are on high alert for shifting workplace discord and proactively engage team members in sincere two-way dialogue. These bosses are engaged, hands-on, approachable, and biased toward democratic action.
Safety is your #1 goal while riding a cow. The same goes for managing up: The psychological and political perils are many and often hidden.
Cow-riding tips and parallels to managing a tone-deaf boss:
Rule #1 – Try to minimize surprising the cow. Cows, like bosses, possess a survivalist brain that easily spooks into fight or flight.
- Boss Rule: Schedule regular 1:1’s with your boss. I recommend at least 20-30 minutes every week. Provide a clear agenda in advance that is solution-oriented, sensitive to tight budgets, and demonstrates your clarity around key priorities.
Rule #2 – Never attempt to change a cow. A cow has gotten to where it’s at by being a successful cow; bosses too. Nothing yields rigid thinking and outsized egos more than historical success.
- Boss Rule: Show that your riding attempts will be a win-win. Point directly to the green pastures on the horizon. Your boss needs assurances that your obvious persuasion attempts consider her best interests.
Rule #3 – Cows are stubborn negotiators. An armful of freshly cut hay usually provides leverage.
- Boss Rule: Most bosses can be swayed by strategic solutions that support her objectives and the organization’s priorities. Complaining without a clear business plan promotes resistance to your ideas. Just like cows, bosses will simply ignore you, stare you down, or become agitated by your anemic advances.
A tone-deaf boss is a major source of frustration for many dedicated employees. There is no ‘grass is greener over the fence’ strategy, but take it from an experienced cow rider: There are trusted rules for what and what not to do.
Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve