Have you ever wondered what exactly your boss does all day? I have as well. My work history goes back two decades. I’ve had bad bosses, micro-managing bosses, and laissez-faire bosses. Some bosses are easy to work for, and others are frankly nightmares who give people Monday sickness. If all you see your boss do all day is to sit around doing apparently nothing, you may legitimately feel that everyone can do that job. At one point in time, I did feel that way too. Then I became president of a non-profit grassroots community organization. Needless to say, this has had a drastic effect on my understanding of bosses. It’s not just that every employee thinks he or she can do your job. They believe that they can do it better than you. In some cases, they can, but in the overwhelming majority of cases, they have no clue. When I see or hear comments to this effect, I smile and walk on. I do this because I understand that a leader’s job always has two components: The part that you see and the other part that you don’t see.
The visible parts
The part of your bosses job that you see is pretty clear and easy. Responding to emails, leading meetings, providing feedback to employees, and other such easy tasks. These are pretty standard agenda items for bosses. It may appear simple, but there is more to it. This is the part that misleads people into thinking that they could step into the boss’ job today and perform like superstars. The only trouble is that we universally suffer from optimism bias. In general, people tend to overestimate their intelligence, their competence, their contributions, the likelihood of something bad happening to them, and the list goes on. Richard Weylman once said that during a consulting engagement when he asked separately two partners how much they think they contribute to the partnership. Each one of them responded about 60%. As you can imagine, each one of them underestimated the contribution of the partner and overestimated their personal contribution. I have heard less qualified employees bad mouth their superiors, arguing that they can do a far better job. Is this unusual? No. Not if you think about it in the framework of optimism bias. You add in some ego problems, sprinkle some superiority complex on it, and you get yourself a recipe for rebellion. The invisible parts of your boss’ responsibilities notwithstanding, you could probably do his or her job.
The hidden parts
Indeed, your manager’s job has a significant component that you cannot see because it’s above your pay grade. While you worry about doing your job, your boss has to worry about limiting the unnecessary office distractions (needless meetings and other workplace distractions). Your boss does that, so distractions do not overrun your calendar. Your boss is your first line of defense against demands from other departments. Often, if these demands are left unchecked, the could easily bury you under a pile of unproductive tasks that do not add any tangible value to the business. I have yet to meet anyone who enjoys busy work.
Your boss is also your advocate. Because he or she has to report to his/her superiors, he/she has the responsibility to accurately report on you and your successes to the powers that be. Otherwise, that promotion you have been dreaming about would never materialize. Essentially, your boss has to vouch for you to make the magic happen. Decisions around hiring and firing are also on your boss’ docket. Anyone with recruitment experience will tell you that this is the most difficult part of the job. Everyone that I know in management would rather not do this part of it, especially the firing part.
As I explained here, it’s quite easy to think that you can, with supreme competency, take over your boss’ job and perform at far higher levels than your boss ever could. This is a fallacy that can easily spell doom for whoever is inexperienced enough to fall into that way of thinking. Outside of chronic crone-ism and nepotism, your boss did not become a boss in one day. He/she had to convince many people that he/she is able and qualified to perform the required tasks. So before you pronounce your boss incompetent next time, take a breather and ask yourself if you have the entire picture.