There are only a few reasons why some people are successful and lead satisfying professional lives, and most do not. Perhaps the most neglected reason is the boss. The thesis is simple – if you have a boss who is going places, so will you. At least you will if you make proper use of the boss. In this post I explore why this is true, how to find a going-places boss, and how to make correct use of the boss.
WHY THE BOSS MATTERS
At one level, it is an observable fact – anyone who has become really successful has had at least one boss who themselves has been distinguished in whatever the field is, whether business, sport, entertainment, or academia. Not all people who work for a successful boss become successful, but nearly everyone who has become successful has worked for one or more successful bosses, and made good use of them.
Therefore it is not all – dare I break the truth to you – about you and your abilities. Without individual talent and especially focus and determination, nothing worthwhile gets done. But your talents can lie neglected or frustrated if you don’t make use of them intelligently – and craftily. And most people don’t realize how vital that is, and how large a part of the craft of the career lies in the selection and exploitation of the boss.
If you stop to think about it for a moment, it becomes obvious. Life is all about energy, mobility, and growth – going somewhere where you have not been, rising fast in your chosen domain, and using sources of leverage – people, money, ideas, and links to other people outside your immediate purview – to multiply whatever you want to multiply, whether reputation, solid achievement, new products or services, new ideas, fame, social status, money, or the ability to do good. In short, you have to experience and create growth.
To gain momentum is hard, but to use momentum is easy.
The 80/20 solution – that is, the easy way that takes you furthest – is to observe momentum and latch onto it by whatever means you can. That means, for example, only working for organizations that are small but growing really fast. And it means working for a boss who is “growing” – gaining ground in whatever the important objective is – really fast too.
It is far easier to rise in the slipstream of a man or woman who is going places fast than it is to create your own head of steam. That comes later, when you are already moving fast.
Society is unfair, and modern “meritocractic” society, while seeming fairer than a rigid class system, is inherently unfair too. Those who come from rich or successful parents or families have a huge advantage – and it does not come principally from the obvious uses of wealth, such as buying a better education. The most crucial advantage comes from the role model and focus provided by the parent or family. Why is it that of the three hundred and nineteen million people in the US, the presidency is often occupied or at least contested by a handful of families – with names such as Kennedy, Romney, Bush, and Clinton? Because these people have a family business, and the business is politics. They are born to it. They breathe its spirit as they grow up. They aspire to it. They are thought viable candidates just by the fact of their family membership. And they get distinct leg-ups from their mom and dad and siblings.
This is not democracy or meritocracy, but it is how democracies and meritocracies work. You can observe the same phenomenon in the arts, television, business, universities, and many other fields. We still have a hereditary aristocracy, and we always will. It is just that the source of advantage is no longer confined to land. (Though that can still take you a long way – ask Donald Trump.)
Why do I mention this?
Because you can’t select your parents or family, but you can select your boss.
And your boss can give you the same kind of edge, or an even better one, than being born to the purple.
So don’t complain that society is unfair; start exploiting the elements of unfairness that you can control. The boss may be the most important of these.
What Kind of Boss Are You Looking for?
When it comes to bosses, go for the very best you can get. Don’t settle for a good but not great boss.
How to Get the Most from the Boss
Business is inherently social, and the social, intellectual, and subjective elements of boss-dom and subordinate-dom are massively important. Though obvious, they are usually neglected. Choosing your bosses and following them to success – and then helping your key people do the same – is not only one of the most effective ways to get ahead, but also one of the most pleasurable.