Fri | Aug 14, 2020

Trevor E. S. Smith | What if your boss does not listen?

Published:Sunday | October 27, 2019 | 12:00 AM

As we work to guide middle-management teams to high performance, they consistently point to dysfunction at the senior levels of leadership. Unfortunately, my patience has run dry. Consequently, I confront mid-tier leaders with the charge to learn to be as persuasive with their managers as they are with those they lead.

Mid-tier leadership is challenging. However, a mindset that defers responsibility upwards is destined for failure. We have to get our bosses to listen or the organisation faces dire consequences!

Harking back to the era of spanking, we were told, “If you won’t hear, you will feel.” Well, if bosses won’t hear, the organisation will feel. When the organisation ‘feels’, we hurt and experience the pain. Let us step up and apply strategies that get bosses to listen AND act on what they hear.


Vital Smarts conducted a survey of 1,700 nurses, doctors, administrators and other clinicians at 13 hospitals. They found that 34 per cent of nurses and other clinical care providers indicated that they had concerns about the incompetence of a physician, yet only one per cent indicated that they had spoken to the physician and shared their full concerns. Another 54 per cent said the situation had gone on for more than a year.

Watch this! Eight per cent indicated that a patient had been harmed by the physician’s actions during the last year. Ref:

Silence is golden but it can also be harmful!


1. Develop a reliable track record

Execute your responsibilities with excellence and ensure that evidence of your performance is unmistakably visible to your boss. Credibility and reliability grab the attention of smart, open-minded bosses. If your boss is a know-it-all, stuck-in-the-mud incompetent, then you can stop reading and seek a transfer or new job.

2. What’s in it for them. It’s not about you

Too much of what is presented as feedback is bellyaching about issues affecting you. There is too much focus on your concerns. Shift your mindset. Place yourself in your boss’ shoes. What are her concerns? What is she bothered about? What would she like to see happen?

Work to link your concerns to her objectives and present it in her behavioural language.


3. Use correct behavioural approach

Much of workplace communication involves people speaking in Chinese and getting increasingly frustrated because their Greek colleague is not acting on their advice. Identify your boss’ preferred behavioural style and communicate with them using that style. If a detailed, evidence-based presentation is required, making a passing comment in the passage does not constitute sharing a recommendation. Stop saying, ‘I told the boss’. You did not! You mumbled something in passing.

Alternatively, if the boss prefers a bullet-point, one-pager that spells out goals and how to get there, your thick folder might gather dust.

4. Timing is everything

Avoid making your case when your boss is preoccupied. A suitor sets up the environment in which he pitches his proposal for marriage. Work to create the right climate to make important recommendations.


5. Tie pain points to the big picture

Boost the importance of your case by linking it to threats to the organisation. Leaders are concerned when issues threaten to become systemic. Show why your local issues need to be addressed, now.


6. Pitch to the right person

Waiting on someone to deliver something outside of their capability is an exercise in futility. Carefully review what is involved in getting action on your recommendation. Where does the decision-making in that regard reside? Who has control over the required resources?

In many instances, your best approach is to sell your boss on the idea of co-sponsoring your petition. That requires a different presentation.


7. Your emotions and mindset

Losing your cool and exhibiting a body language that exudes frustration, or even intimidation, is not helpful. Similarly, the ‘here we go again’ expectation of rejection is not the mindset that will achieve the transformation that we seek.

Pursue the change that you desire from a principled position, on a platform of solid evidence, backed by a track record of reliable high performance. It’s all about helping the team to win!


Ensure that your 20/20 goals are achieved. Talk to us about how we can move your team to the next level.


St Andrew Church of Christ, 77 Red Hills Road, on Sunday, October 27, 6 p.m.

- Trevor E. S. Smith/Success with People Academy. We guide the development of high-performance teams. We are interpersonal relations, group dynamics and performance-enhancement specialists. We provide learning and productivity-enhancement technology solutions. We offer behavioural assessments from Extended DISC on the revolutionary FinxS platform and e-Competency Frameworks in our SPIKE solution. Email: