What wisdom is there about serving bosses?

by Sam on July 6, 2010

One-Minute Answer:  Before you can reach your fullest potential as a leader you must become the best possible follower. As Ben Franklin said, “He that cannot obey, cannot command.”


Three things are needed. First, plant in your head what it means to serve others in positions of authority. Second, send that knowledge to your heart so you desire to serve with distinction. Third, let your heart activate your hands, mouth, and feet such that you unmistakably demonstrate that fervor.


Summer Schedule

We’re appearing every other week during the vacation season. So you won’t see us next Wednesday. The last day we’ll miss is Aug. 25. Enjoy the summer!


Learn how to take these three followership steps by going to school on the insights of some pretty smart people.



Five-Minute Answer:  Check out these stimulating statements about pleasing the person you report to. I hope you find even just one that speaks to bettering your relationship with the person you report to.


“Natural talent, intelligence, a wonderful education—none of these guarantees success. Something else is needed: the sensitivity to understand what other people want and the willingness to give it to them.”  ~John Luther

[Great followers discover what their leaders want and deliver. It’s that simple.]

“You can’t make the other fellow feel important in your presence if you secretly feel that he is a nobody.”  ~Les Giblin

[You’ll not hide disrespect that may be in your heart for those in authority. It will be revealed uncontrollably by tone of voice and body language. Your only choice is to change your heart—or change your job.]

“There is a rule in sailing that the more maneuverable ship should give way to the less maneuverable craft. I think this is sometimes a good rule to follow in human relationships as well.”  ~Dr. Joyce Brothers

[Most bosses want your ideas, but when they’ve listened and made it clear they’ve heard enough, it’s time to back down—even when you “know” you’re right.]

“If you would have a happy life, remember two things: In matters of principle, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current.”  ~Thomas Jefferson

[Choose your fights well. The more often you disagree the less impact your positions will have. Be certain your resistance and advocacy are truly meaningful to the organization, to customers, and to you.]

“If you are suffering from a bad man’s injustice, forgive him lest there be two bad men.”  ~Augustine

[Don’t you wish people would get what they deserve? Aren’t you glad you don’t? Forgive; it frees you.]

“When I’m getting ready to persuade a man, I spend one-third of my time thinking about myself and what I’m going to say and two-thirds thinking about him and what he’s going to say.”  ~Abraham Lincoln

[Sell ideas based on benefits that appeal to your boss—not you or others.]

“It’s when you rub elbows with a man that you find out what he has up his sleeve.”  ~Unknown author

[It’s quite impossible to serve a leaders well without knowing them well enough to understand their vision—their dissatisfaction with the present, and desire to create a new tomorrow. What future does your boss strive for?]

“A wise man associating with the vicious becomes an idiot; a dog traveling with good men becomes a rational being.”  ~Arabic proverb

[Once there is no longer any question that you report to an evil person, leave.]

“Don’t drown the man who taught you to swim.”  ~C. H. Spurgeon

[Continue honoring people for what you have learned from them, even when they become unhelpful leaders. And never go over a boss’s head. Yours is not likely to be the rare case where it pays off for anyone.]

“To be humble to superiors is duty; to equals is courtesy; to inferiors, nobleness.”  ~Ben Franklin

[Each of these three behaviors reinforces the other. Treat any of these groups with less than respect and the other two will likely suffer under your hand.]

“Think of three things: whence you came, where you are going, and to whom you must account.”  ~Ben Franklin

[I sometimes ask executives to rate how well their direct reports show accountability for the results of their work. When I let them use a rating scale of 0 to 10, the average score given is about a 7. What number does your boss give you?]

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.”  ~Rom 13:1-5 (NIV)

[This reading comes up often in discussions with clients who struggle with allegiance to a boss they believe is mismanaging them. It tells me that they need to either quit or submit—either invariably leads to freedom. Perhaps another implication is that even bad bosses are there for a reason. It may be something you need to learn about yourself.]


Enough Said:  “A boss is someone who’s early when you’re late and late when you’re early.”  ~Unknown author (who probably doesn’t want to admit authorship!)


Week after Next:  Quotes with the power to inspire customer service providers aren’t easy to locate, but we’ve found a bunch for you in response to, “How can I get employees excited about serving customers?” See you with them on July 21st.

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