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How to train your boss

Dear Evil HR Lady,

My boss calls me up to 10 times a day and says, "Can I ask a question? " Sometimes the question has to do with why this unit or employee is working overtime. (We do not have restrictions on OT, but she gets a bigger bonus the farther under budget she is -- all the managers do.) The questions wouldn't bother me except that she decided a couple of months ago that I and the assistant manager had to come to her to get permission before having staff cover shifts that would result in overtime. Any OT had been approved by her already. We have 100 shifts open per month, which she knows from the weekly emails she has requested, in addition to the information in our weekly individual meetings.

I have asked my boss each week if there is anything I need to do differently or better and she says no. Am I missing something?

Nope. You're not missing anything -- your boss is. And what your boss is missing is the ability to let go. It's possible that she's hyper-focused on her budget (because of the bonus), but it's more likely that if the overtime issue went away, she'd be asking you questions about other things.

Being an assistant manager can be a tremendously difficult job because you're squished right in the middle. You're not the big boss with the ultimate authority, but you do have limited authority over the employees. Managers want the assistant manager to help, but since they are still ultimately responsible until they trust you completely they often can't let go. And the problem is that no matter how competent you are, sometimes the boss just can't find a way to trust people.

That means it's time to train your boss. A few years ago, Fast Company ran an article called "Your Boss Is a Monkey." It's all about using the tools in an animal trainer's belt to train your boss. This works. It is difficult. You have to break down your big goal into steps. Reward each step along the way, and eventually you'll reach your goal.

Training a boss is like training a chimpanzee to ride a skateboard. First, you reward the animal for even being in the same room with the skateboard, and eventually you work up. Here's one way to apply that approach to a boss, according to Fast Company:

Let's say your boss always makes your life hell before deadlines. The pressure makes him abrasive and pushy. The first time he manages to stay calm and reasonable, tell him, "It always impresses me how calm you stay under pressure." He eats the mango. The next time he stays calm, you volunteer to take a small task off his to-do list. He eats the mango. And many mangoes later, he thinks to himself, proudly, "I'm the calm-under-pressure guy." He's happier and you're happier. Now you can start working on his skateboarding.

Just like that. It is, of course, easier said than done. You have to be calm, collected and consistent. But you can do it. If you get your coworkers involved in this as well, you can probably train your boss more quickly.

However, it's critical that she not know that you are attempting to shape her behavior. If she knows, she'll be angry and indignant that you think she can be trained like a monkey. Plus, it's not your job to train her; it's her job to train you!

Except that people who need training should get training. The key is to proceed through the routine carefully and deliberately. Write down what you need to do each day and stick to it. Eventually, you'll train her to stay off the phone.

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