How to influence your boss and make life easier

Article by: coach Kriengsak Nirattanasai
Photo: iStock

‘Khun Kriengsak, our holding companies have been restructured and the organisational structure has created an additional boss for me. I have difficulty working with her,” Ton tells me. “Please coach me on how to mange my boss.”

“Khun Ton, I can’t help you.”


“It’s your boss who manages you, not the other way around.”

“What should I do?”

“You told me that you had worked well with all of your previous bosses. How did you manage that?”

“I influenced them.”

“Why don’t you influence your new boss?”

“I think I don’t know her enough. How do I learn more about her?”

“According to the book Influence Without Authority, by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford, influencing is about trade. You trade what you have with others.

The authors suggest that to make trades, you need to be aware of many things people care about and all the valuables that you have to offer. They use the term “currency” and say that at least five types of currency are at work in a variety of settings: inspiration-related, task-related, position-related, relationship-related and personal. You can read the book to learn more about the currency concept, but the authors also offer tips that you can use when dealing with most bosses:

  1. Performing above and beyond what is required is a traditional way of building credit with any boss, but it is still fundamental.
  2. Make the boss feel that he or she will not have to worry about the subordinate’s area, knowing the latter will deliver.
  3. A boss likes to know that subordinate will take into account political factors in the organisation.
  4. A boss likes being able to rely on the subordinate as a sounding board; someone who makes sure the boss doesn’t shoot himself or herself in the foot. Being able to rely on the subordinate as a source of information from other parts of the organisation as well as from below.
  5. Keeping the boss informed of problems; making sure there are no surprises. Because so many people distort what they tell their bosses in the belief that bosses want to hear only what will please them, managers are always in the position of wanting and needing reliable information about what is going on in the company. The subordinate who proves to be a reliable source of information, who is good at anticipating others’ reactions and can warn the manager about landmines, and who brings potential problems to the boss’s attention is likely to be valued and trusted.
  6. Representing the boss (accurately) to other parts of the organisation, which frees the boss for other important activities.
  7. Being a source of creativity and new ideas.
  8. Defending and supporting the boss’s (and the organisation’s) decisions to your own subordinates. Since many employees blame any tough decisions on “the boss” or on the invisible “they” at the top, managers are grateful when a subordinate “sells downward” rather than subtly undermining the boss’s credibility by implying that all unpopular decisions are forced from above.
  9. Providing support and encouragement, “being on the boss’s team”. It isn’t always lonely at the top, but the person in charge often finds it impossible to explain exactly why he or she had to make certain decisions or how the power to affect others’ lives can be a tough burden. Managers often especially appreciate a subordinate’s loyalty, encouragement, or general willingness to give the benefit of the doubt. Even bold, strong leaders value having someone around who will stick by them through thick and thin. This works only if you genuinely appreciate the boss, but if you do, it is potent.
  10. Taking initiative with new ideas; preventing problems instead of waiting for them to happen. In an era of rapid change, there is even more need than in the past for subordinates who can take initiative, rather than wait for instructions that inevitably arrive too late. The willingness to jump in to prevent problems is valuable and often dramatically noticeable.

“Those are good tips, Coach. But I don’t like my new boss. What should I do?” asks Ton.

“Khun Ton, why do you work?”

“To make this world a better place _ that’s my ultimate goal in life.”

“Khun Ton, how is liking or disliking your boss relevant to your goal?”

“I guess it’s not. But I’ve already complained about my new boss to some of my people. What should I do?”

“What do you think?”

“I think I will go back to my team. I’ll tell them that I was wrong. I want to work with my new boss.”

“Now you’re showing courage and it’s also a good way to lead by example. There’s nothing wrong with making a mistake as long as we learn from it by trying not to make the same mistake again, apologising, taking corrective action and moving on.”