Who is Your Boss? The Answer Might Surprise You

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This seems like a simple question. One that would be easy to answer. But for those of us in a customer-facing and customer-impacting role or with big ambitions for our career, it is the kind of multiple choice question that leads to new insights and creates different day-to-day priorities and strategies. 

WHO Do You Work for?

Option 1: You work for your employer. This is the most obvious one. You are employed by an organization from which you receive a paycheck. You have a boss (or several). Your boss might have a boss. Your goals are aligned to the financial or strategic goals of the business and the goals of those bosses. And your primary job is to advocate for the company with customers to create enterprise value for the investors of your company and the leadership who is advocating their interest. With this mindset, the importance of “managing up” is clear. Internal relationship building and being visible in the organization is critical. Whether your manager is collaborative, a micro-manager, or empowering, this view dominates the work landscape.

Option 2: You work for your customers. For marketing professionals and other customer-facing roles, this can be a very useful perspective for day-to-day prioritization. Customers ultimately pay the bills and drive growth and profit in the company. Often customer advocacy and resulting business results can lead to personal rewards. If your goals are aligned to the business goals of your customer, this can lead to great partnership and can optimize long-term customer value. Customer experience and customer service are paramount and are driving enterprise value (not the other way around). With this mindset, the importance of customer relationship building is clear. You need to spend time with your boss, after all.  And your primary job is to advocate or the customer within the company.

Option 3: You work for yourself. Perhaps you are self-employed, consult, or rocking the gig economy, but even if you are not, it is helpful to consider this perspective. Even if you are an employee, you own your own career. You own your own development. And for most of us, we own how we apply our time and energy to the various problems and opportunities we face daily. Ultimately, you choose to join companies, which customers or markets you focus on, and how you pursue your personal passions over time. And with this approach, your primary job is to advocate for yourself with customers and the company, to align their goals with the work you want to pursue. In my experience, this perspective comes to the forefront in times of transition or discontent, but otherwise is under-prioritized. 

As you consider your answer, know that it truly is a multiple choice question. Your answer will likely be a mix of all three and will vary over time as needs and priorities changes. 

In any case, I highly recommend you spending time, being mentored by, and really understanding the needs of all three of your bosses - your employer, your customers, and yourself – to ensure that you are performing up to your fullest potential.   We often don’t listen to ourselves or give ourselves the same compassionate and honest advice we would give to colleagues or our employees, even though we could benefit from the self-reflection. And most of us don’t ask or receive advice frequently enough from our employers or our customers and we should regularly seek out the gift of feedback. Armed with these insights, we can confidently answer the question and focus on the highest impact priorities.

This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.