Political gamesmanship is not my focus. You won't read suggestions of how to win that boss-buttering-up contest you and your labmate have been competing in. Regardless of one's feelings about company politics, however, everyone needs to be politically astute. In dealing with your boss, you need to know enough to recognize when politics have entered the scene.
Let's take a look at these bosses and their traits in order to determine which type of supervisor is hovering above you in your company's pecking order.
The Autocratic Boss
This boss is tough to work for. He or she has little concern for subordinates and refuses to see them as individuals with unique skills. Instead, each person on the team is simply a tool to get a job done. The company might put an autocratic boss in charge of an important project because they push their people so hard - they get great results when facing tight deadlines. But this same boss has trouble keeping the results from falling apart when the team demoralizes and breaks down.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: Let's face it, you're never going to be nurtured or mentored here, so don't go in expecting it or you'll be disappointed. Instead, manage your day just as the boss would manage hers; plan out your activities, know what your short and long-term goals are, and ensure that every time you speak to this boss you have a mental picture of exactly where you stand on those objectives. This type of boss appreciates all-business, goal-oriented communication. Don't chit-chat - just act like the machine your boss believes you to be (and keep your fingers crossed that you'll be transferred to a different department sooner rather than later).
The Democratic Boss
This is the boss who believes that the best decision is one that is made in a truly democratic fashion. Everyone gets a vote, and as a result the process itself starts to bog down progress in the lab. Momentum takes place only when there is a consensus of opinion, which is hard to find in most companies. This supervisor has been given the opportunity to lead others because of a presumed ability to make decisions, but has chosen instead to simply count hands. As an example, hiring decisions are never made without a vote, leading the recruiting process to go on and on.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: You'll never convert the democratic boss to another style - he or she is stuck in that mold. But you can smooth the progress of your team by working within this system to help the democratic boss break logjams and develop a consensus. From your unique position inside the team, you should know more than your boss about how and why people feel a certain way on an issue. Become that insider who helps bring people together on important issues.
The Parental Boss
This boss will take the team in hand as a parent would his children, protecting and sheltering them from the elements of the organization. This supervisor would prefer to have the team members emotionally dependent upon him or her, much like a parent or good friend; this can lead to a subtle frustration of each team member's growth and development within the company. A boss like this often comes from the firm's most respected technical staff and managers. There's a strong element of mentoring in the way his or her management style, but the "apron strings" never get cut.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: This boss has forgotten that part of the job is to develop team members into leaders themselves. You could do much worse than a boss of this type - a parental boss is a pleasure to work for. Just don't find yourself trapped in that comfortable spot. You could 'wake up' after five years and find that you never moved up in the organization as you should have.
The Hands-Off Boss
This sounds like the dream boss - the supervisor who is completely "hands off" and who lets you do as you wish. On the scale of involvement in your job, this boss is 180 degrees from the autocratic type. He or she will leave you on your own, even to the point of letting you flounder and get stuck in quicksand. While everyone likes independence, working for a hands-off boss will make you crave for a touch of support and some occasional guidance.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: This kind of boss is off in a world of his own. His door is closed or you see him inside working behind huge stacks of paperwork. Even though he's not approachable, this boss will provide you with support when asked. Keep him or her up to speed on your project goals and activities through weekly meetings that you request. Don't allow your work to get too far without the occasional course correction from the boss, requested by you.
The Driven Boss
This type of manager has the best interests of the organization at heart, but manages by imposition of will. Forceful and objectives-oriented, this boss requires perfection but is not so caught up in its pursuit as to miss an opportunity to get results out before the competition. Although blessed with better "people skills" than the autocratic boss, this supervisor pushes people hard, forgetting that the team wants to be led and not pushed. This boss is so driven, the company goals and the picture of success so firmly planted in her mind, that she believes her team should want to succeed.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: This kind of boss loves a cheerleader. Buy into the dream and ensure that the company's goal is firmly planted ahead of all personal issues in every conversation you have. It's OK to have needs and requests, but always find a way to relate these to the overall goal of the team.
The Consultative Boss
Here's the kind of boss I'd like to work for, but in many years of work I can truly say that I've only met one of them. The consultative boss discovers and nourishes the uniqueness of each team member, and recognizes that some may outshine him in certain areas. This is a person who is not afraid to hire someone who is better than him; ideas are encouraged and shared, and decisions are made that reflect the combined intelligence of the team members. This boss consults with his organization and smoothes the way for each employee to do a better job.
Strategy for dealing with this type of boss: Where a parental manager may give the team a sense of confidence in the leader, the consultative boss gives the team members a sense of confidence in themselves. Focus on honing your area of expertise, developing the ability to keep things moving along on an even keel. Your boss will become a sort of organizational gyroscope, valued by the company for the ability to develop internal harmony. You'll ride along on his coattails as he moves up the ladder.
If you are job seeking now (perhaps because of a bad boss!) it's likely that you won't have a number of opportunities in front of you in order to choose the one with the ideal boss. However, even if you have one single job offer to consider and you are weighing this against the anguish of many more months of job seeking, I can assure you that thinking about what type of boss this person might be before your decision will be valuable.
As you advance through your career, you'll find that whenever issues develop between you and your boss, the one who will take the burden of the blame will be you. As unfair as this might be, it is reality.