One of the common pitfalls I see in a lot of organizations from campaigns to corporations, is a focus on keeping the principal happy at all costs.
Unreasonable demands on staff leading to burnout? You got it boss.
Hastily executed event with lackluster attendance? On it.
If your candidate or CEO doesn’t create the kind of environment to speak up and offer constructive, data-driven feedback on a decision, you’re working for a boss, not a leader.
And I’d place this behavior on a spectrum. Your principal can be a great leader when it comes to certain aspects of the organization: delegating appropriately, trusting expertise, and staying engaged.
Unfortunately, it seems like digital marketing and technology seem to fall victim to a boss’s whims more frequently than other departments. I’ve got some theories on that, including the facts that the internet offers the possibility of instant gratification and most older leaders aren’t digitally native.
It’s way too easy to do what your boss wants, to make him or her happy, rather than doing what’s best for your supporters or customers. And then a vicious feedback loop takes hold: you get poor results, the boss is unhappy, makes more demands to fix it, etc.
So how do you escape the demanding boss death spiral? Aside from the obvious of looking for better leadership elsewhere (which is easier said than done), here are some strategies for managing up.
Share a Sense of Urgency
Nothing worries a principal more than the thought that his or her team is slacking off, doesn’t have a sense of urgency, and is letting an opportunity fall through the cracks. Sadly, some bosses can’t convey the sense of urgency without getting angry and yelling.
Candidates and CEOs will always feel like they are overscheduled, so if they’re asking for something or paying attention to an issue in a given moment, it is, by default, urgent for them in that moment.
You’ve got to share that sense of urgency. Jump in and take responsibility. Figure out the details later. Even better if you can anticipate the principal’s urgency before he or she communicates it.
Example: I just read President Bartlett plans to announce his new proposal to protect ruby throated hummingbirds. I think this is a great opportunity for us to respond. I’ll take lead in drafting social posts and email copy for you so we can hit send as soon as it’s official.
If you’re having an argument between two different opinions, the boss’s opinion is always the winner. But if you’ve got data, there’s a greater chance the boss will have to confront reality and make a change. If you don’t have internal data to back yourself up, find it elsewhere.
Example: I understand we’d like to link to all 25 news stories in this fundraising email, but this survey from the Nielsen Norman Group shows that the click through rate on email drops by 30% with each additional link. So if we really want this email to be about fundraising, we should only link to the donation page.
Educate, explain & demonstrate
Chances are the boss isn’t digitally native, so there’s a learning curve you’ll have to overcome. Don’t assume he or she knows the “right” way to do something online. It’s helpful if you aren’t patronizing and can provide examples.
Example: The debate had a lot of great moments but posting the full thing won’t get the attention we want on social. I recommend clipping our top 5 best answers into separate videos, adding captions, then sharing them that way. Here’s an example of how Ed Gillespie’s campaign did it.
Borrow this cornerstone of improv comedy to get your boss pointed in the right direction. Agree with what they want to have happen and suggest the best way to do it. Typically they’re not as concerned with the process as they are the desired outcomes.
Example: Yes, we should definitely get our new fundraising numbers out to our supporters to demonstrate the strength of our organization. I’ll draft an email to our list based on the language from the press release. It will be easier for our supporters to read than sending a link to the FEC database.
Make sure you let your principal know what you are working on so they have a better understanding of what your focus is. It also helps with the education process.
Example: The Tweet you posted yesterday about your new running shoes had 5X more engagements than all of our other Tweets this week. People really like the personal, behind the scenes content. We should do more of that to engage our supporters and increase the reach of our other Tweets.
If these scenarios sound too familiar to you and you want to learn more about working with your leadership to execute the best possible strategy, consider picking up a copy of these books:
- Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALS Lead and Win by Jocko Willink
- How to Win Friends & Influence People by Dale Carnegie
- Managing Up: How to Move up, Win at Work, and Succeed with Any Type of Boss by Mary Abbajay