12 Tips for Managing Your Boss
Few resources exist that provide guidance on how to manage up effectively, yet it’s something almost every employee wants to know. If you already have a good working relationship with your manager, applying these 12 tips will strengthen it. If your current relationship with your manager is poor, putting these 12 tips into practice is essential to getting it back on track.
1. Your boss is not out to get you. Your manager is not thinking about how to make your life miserable during their daily commute — their job is stressful enough. Yes, there are bad managers out there. I’ve worked for some of them and chances are, so have you. Your manager probably has, too, which means that they may not have had exemplary leaders to learn from. Nearly all of the managers I personally meet (this number is approaching 10,000) are sincerely seeking to be good leaders, do the right things for their organizations, and take care of the people they manage.
Be thankful times have changed. My grandfather once told me that in order to keep his job at Ford Motor Company, he was required to clean his boss’s house every Saturday for free!
2. Alignment is crucial. Know what’s expected of you. Your annual performance review is not the time to discover that you’ve been out of alignment with your boss’s expectations. Your manager should have been giving you feedback throughout the year in order to avoid surprises in your review. However, you do have a part to play. Discover the top 3 things your manager expects of you. Even if you think you know, you should ask and check in regularly to validate your assumptions.
Not convinced? The book First, Break all the Rules, includes results of a survey conducted by Gallup, which sought to discover the top things that keep employees feeling “connected and effective” at work. Of 80,000 employees surveyed, the top contributor was “I know what’s expected of me at work.”
Your manager should be engaging in regular 1:1 sessions with you. If that’s not happening, start scheduling them yourself. Come prepared to these meetings with what you want to discuss and bring something to write with. Use this time to confirm your manager’s expectations of your performance. If your boss doesn’t show up, send an email outlining what you think your priorities are and what you’ve done to meet them. Keep it simple and let them correct you. If there is a disconnect, you need to know what it is. Listen more than you talk. You are seeking to take corrective action, not defend yourself.
3. Priorities change. So you finally reach alignment with your boss regarding your priorities and guess what? There’s a re-organization in your department. Or a merger. Or a new business imperative. Or even a new boss! You have to review your priorities regularly. You can say things like: “Here’s where I’m spending my time and why. Are these the right priorities?” Or “When we last met, you encouraged me to focus on these things. Here’s what I’ve done so far. Is that still the direction you want me to take?”
4. Understand how your manager is measured. Ask your manager what their top priorities are. Knowing this information will help you to see how your individual contributions have an impact on their goals, driving alignment (#1 above).
5. Open-door policies are misleading. Many of the organizations I work with have “open-door policies,” meaning that anyone at any level of the organization can approach someone at any other level at any time. That sounds great in theory, but in reality, nobody likes to be blind-sided. It’s simply respectful to let your boss know if you are having a conversation with one of their peers or their boss. No, you don’t need their permission in an organization with an open-door policy, but you should inform them.
All managers want to be “in the know”. Make sure there’s nothing your manager should know that they don’t.
6. Know your manager’s communication style and preferences. Do they want details, or just high-level information? Do they prefer email, or talking on the phone during their commute? What is the best time of day to ask them for something?
In today’s sound-byte age, people want to hear the punchline first to determine if they should keep listening. Learn to net out your thoughts. Don’t use 67 PowerPoint slides to get your message across when 3 will do.
7. Make your boss look good — it’s in your best interest. When senior leaders look around an organization to fill key roles, one of the first questions they ask is “Who can I trust?” When you set out to make your boss look good, not only do you build trust with your manager, you also develop a reputation for yourself of being trustworthy. If you can’t stomach the thought of making your boss look good, simply avoid making them look bad.
8. Use aspirational language. There are going to be obstacles and challenges – which is why it’s called work! Don’t be a victim. Listen to your speech for words like “I can’t because” or “they won’t let me” or “someone was supposed to”. Learn to talk about possibilities and what can be done, not all the things that can’t.
9. You own your career development. No one will ever care about your career as much as you do. If you don’t take that seriously, your manager will question whether or not you would take the performance and development of others seriously if and when you want to advance. Tell your manager how they can help you and tap into their network, knowledge, and experience.
10. Let go of your need to be right. If you desire to influence others, you may struggle with this one, particularly in group settings or “reply-to-all” emails. Know when to practice restraint, and approach your boss privately when you have a disagreement.
11. You don’t have to like your boss. If you respect the position, however, things will go better for you. Remember that even if you don’t think that your boss deserves the leadership role that they have, the fact is that they do have it. When it’s your turn to be the boss, you can do things your way.
12. Will your manager fight for you? When it comes to pay-planning, promotional opportunities, and developmental roles, is your boss in your corner? Your direct manager has the most influence over your current and future success in an organization. You need to know if they are your advocate. If not, discover why not, so that you can correct it. If it’s a deficiency on their part and has nothing to do with you, it may be time to find a new manager.
Complaints of personality conflicts between manager and employee can often be ascribed to one or more of the 12 items addressed here. Consider giving a copy of this article to your boss and asking them what they think about it. You may discover through that conversation that their expectations of you are different than what you thought. If you already are a people manager, consider sharing this article with your team, emphasizing the items that are most important to you.