Choose Your Boss, Not Your Job

March 8, 2014

Quite possibly the best advice I’ve ever heard about selecting your next career is to pick your boss, not the job.

This is challenging because the process we use to find meaningful work is designed to work the opposite way; the boss picks you. More often than not, you only talk to your boss during the interview process, which is a poor predictor of what he/she will actually be like. By focusing on who your boss will be above most other criteria (e.g. total compensation, responsibility, advancement opportunities, location) changes how you pursue jobs and how happy you’ll be once you select one.

According to a recent Forbes article, more than 2 million people are quitting their jobs each month. More than 74% of people would consider finding a new job. And, 32% are actively looking for their next opportunity. From a high level:

  • A good boss in a mediocre company will protect you and support you.
  • A bad boss in a good company will frustrate and demoralize you.
  • A good boss in a good company will unlock your potential.

Traits of a good boss: drives retention, delegates authority, trustworthy, is a servant/transformational leader, interested in doing what’s right, consistent in decision-making, and is empathetic.

Traits of a bad boss: drives turnover, micromanages others and processes, instills fear, authoritarian leader, interested in being right, inconsistent in decision-making, and is cold/self-focused.

So, how do you find a good boss? First and foremost, understand yourself. Have you established your personal intention? If so, what is your ambition statement (what you need to achieve in the next 3 – 5 years)? By determining a clear path for what you want to achieve, you can conduct a gap analysis of your skills and better determine how a particular boss can coach and mentor you to your goals.

Secondly, picking a tremendous boss demands that you have a strong network. By cultivating relationships with professionals in your field, you can share notes on the bosses you’ve worked for or heard about. This does take time and research, but knowing who the good managers are and seeking them out is probably the best predictor of a prosperous career.

Last, conduct informational interviews with the potential bosses before you actually have the chance to work with them. By treating him or her to coffee or lunch, learning more about what makes him or her tick, you can establish a rapport and see how you can generate value for him or her. You will also learn how the person may be able to support you as you achieve your life’s intent.

As I think back over my career, the single biggest determinant of whether I was happy, productive, developing or duly rewarded was my boss at the time. As Jim Rohn once said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Do yourself a favor; search for jobs with purpose and choose your boss before your title or company.

The career and life of your dreams will evolve organically from there.

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