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Become the Leader of Your Boss.

Each week we will be asking Dr. Covey to comment on common questions.
This week we ask: How can I take control of my professional life and lead?

In today’s working world there are millions of employees in identical
cubical “farms” who feel frustrated by their company’s hierarchies.
The way they’re micromanaged–or not managed at all–leaves them
feeling powerless.

If you remember nothing else from this blog remember this: leadership has nothing to do with formal authority, it has everything to do with influence.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be your boss’s boss, but it does mean that you can lead your boss. How? Simple.


Think of your boss’s challenges, problems, concerns, and future plans–this is empathy. With empathy and anticipation you can act independently of your boss to deal with concerns and discover opportunities and underlying threats.

By acting independently and keeping your boss’s needs in mind (or the company’s needs) you are, in effect, leading. Your ability to anticipate needs is limitless, making your power and influence in the workplace limitless. You’ll always be frustrated if you get hung up on formal hierarchies. However, if you are focused on empathy, regardless of your position, you can achieve the leadership and influence you desire.

I was once an administrative assistant to a very controlling and micromanaging president. One of his subordinates was an excellent example of empathy and anticipation. Every time he was asked a question or given an assignment he asked himself, “What is it that the boss is really trying to accomplish and why does he want this information?” He was so empathic that he delivered not only the request, but additional recommendations and analyses of the information. It was so well thought-out that the president immediately adopted it. The president’s confidence in him caused this person’s influence to grow to the point that his endorsement on projects became mandatory. Contrastingly, the other employees saw the boss as controlling and micromanaging. They would stand around in the executive halls and washrooms describing the boss’s weaknesses and mistakes. Consider how unproductive that was by comparison.

Remember, every time you think the problem is “out there,” that very thought is the problem. Focus on the things which you can influence and you will become a leader in any situation–even the leader of your boss.

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27 Responses to “Become the Leader of Your Boss.”

  1. Sarah Says:

    Dearest Dr. Covey,

    Your book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” changed my life! I am so proud of your achievements and am in absolute awe of you and your work and I have an overwhelming sense of humility and gratitude for you. Thank you for helping propel me into making my dream of writing a book into reality!!!
    With many many thanks, much appreciation, admiration, and warmest regards,

    Sarah Jane Cion

  2. Sasikumar Says:

    Thanks for the great expalnation on extending the “Circle of influence”, hope u may provide an example for better understanding of the same. The things can be made understandable by real-time situation examples.

    M Sasikumar

  3. C. Worrall Says:

    I enjoyed your book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” — I actually keep it by my bedside for reference. I’m glad that you have decided to start a blog to share more of your incites.

    Thank you,
    C. Worrall

  4. Andrew G.R. Says:

    Keep up the great work! I’m sure you can find some of your influence on my career blog - Thanks for your thought-provoking works.

  5. Dallin Bruun Says:

    Great insight. I always think ’self-help’ authors are quacks, but then I read something like this and feel the exact opposite: that you’re the modern greek philosophers of our culture.

  6. Confused.. Says:

    I’m not sure I understand..

    You’re saying to do the work OF your boss without it being your responsibility, or being compensated for it? In other words, make your boss look great, and ensure you stay an underling forever?

    If I were such a great, empathetic person, I’d rather eventually move up the chain, become an effective BOSS myself so that I could lead effectively, WITHOUT being subject to the whims of my boss (or their replacement when my now-super-boss gets promoted), all while making peanuts.

    Maybe that’s just me..

  7. CS Says:

    Regarding the post above, I understand why you would think that. Heck, that is what I thought the first time I read it.

    But as I thought about it more over the last day I think I better understand what he is saying.

    I think he’s saying that if you live your professional life by principals (empathy) regardless of your position, you can lead. This means that you create trust between you and your boss so that you don’t have to be asked to do everything, but that you bing solutions to the table that he will follow.

    Of course, we would all like to move up the ladder, but unless you are the CEO you will always have a boss (I guess even CEOs have to answer to investors or stock holders) and you will always have to choose what principals you live by. Learning to lead your boss makes sure you are leading regardless.

    At least thats what I got.
    I’m looking forward to next week to see if he talks more on this topic.

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  9. Erin Says:

    I understand and agree with the comments on empathy and leading your boss. However, I’d like to add that the boss must be receptive to your help. He/she must be so self-confident that he/she does not feel threatened or intimidated by the employee that is simply taking initiative and “buying into” the organization’s mission and objectives.

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  11. Harsha Raghavan Says:

    Solutions in life are actually simple and yet it astounds most of us because we believe that complex problems/situations requires complex solutions. That is not true because it takes small (and sometimes petty) things to break a deal.

    Harsha Raghavan

  12. Empathy « Experiments - Trial by Fire! Says:

    […] by Harsha on December 7, 2007 Just in case you doubted my empathy approach, here is someone you probably know (and trust) who apparently agrees with […]

  13. site Says:



  14. link Says:



  15. Ralph Poole Says:

    Reflecting on my own career, I wish I had learned this sooner. There were some bosses I could empathize with, anticipate their needs and pro-actively deliver solutions. I had an especially hard time with “hoverers” and probably complained more than I should have. I like less direction more than constant direction. Would empathy have worked? I’d like to think so, but so much is situational.

  16. Jeff Says:

    I can completely attest that this works. If you have empathy and understand where the boss is going, you can anticipate it. Yes, of course your boss will look good and may not even credit you, but over time, those skills lead to better things. Your reputation grows beyond the company and if you ever go somewhere else, you will have that support.

    I have been thinking about this a lot lately about influence instead of authority. Thank you for putting it so plainly.

  17. Angelle Says:

    I’ve actually applied this and seen it work.

    My boss has anxiety issues, and only turns into the Scary Micromanager when she’s anxious about the state or direction of a project.

    I’ve found that, by being empathic and thoughtful and anticipating things she may be worried about and already having a solution in place has benefited me and my team mightily. It has also expanded my circle of influence.

    So it’s not about doing your boss’ job, but rather understanding their particular concerns and pressures. At a certain level, we’re ALL support staff, perhaps leaders most of all.

  18. John Axion Says:

    If your boss is so short sighted as to not see through this, then he needs to add the 8th habit and that to find another job. Come on people, this is business nothing more. - J. Axion, PhD

  19. Vishnu Says:

    i applied this but subconsciously….
    Thinking of yourself as a company rather than an just employee helps in achieving this.

  20. Anxious boss Says:

    Two days ago I was trying to explain my frustrations with the performance of one of my associates.

    I tried to explain to him that he was not cutting it and tried to offer him suggestions on how to become more effective and what I needed from him.

    Lo and behold this is exactly what I need from this associate and I actually described this as an example of what I did to get promoted!

    I am quite certain the only reason I think this way stems from reading all your great, inspirational work.

    Thank you for what you!


  21. benc Says:

    Good one. I recommended this entry to my students at Leadership Class (they were asking me what to do if they were not in a position to be the leader).

    I believe that we create our own problems and have the power to solve all of them. This central belief is one major key to leadership.

  22. Tim Says:

    This is quite interesting… I know there’s a lot of stuff in the Bible, but it amazes me how ‘revolutionary’ this idea is to people. Scripture has what you need people, it’s pretty amazing. It’s all about love.

  23. John Says:

    I learnt early that all of these ‘control your boss’ ideas are wrapped into a single saying which is…. ” don’t go to your boss with your problems, go with your solutions”. Everything else follows naturally from this simple action.

  24. QiHui Says:

    excellent job! your 7 habits book is one of my favorite. I’m happy to see here’s a blog coming up.

  25. Dan Says:

    I am so stoked that Mr. Covey has a blog now!! Awesome!!

  26. Steve Says:

    It can be argued that empathy is both a skill and a characteristic. We all can “understand” where our boss is coming from. The skill lies in knowing where they are going. Empathy is an irreplaceable ingredient in leading your boss. But it is helpless without anticipation. “With empathy and anticipation you can act independently of your boss to deal with concerns and discover opportunities and underlying threats.”

    Steve Barker

  27. basyal suresh Says:

    I found this working well.

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