If you went to one of my workshops or were part of the group coaching assignments I led, you already heard me speak about the importance of building a healthy positive relationship with one’s boss.
There are certain basic skills that everyone should be given access to, in order to succeed in and enjoy their professional life. Managing up is one of them.
As you well know, your boss can be your main ally in reaching your goals, or a number one pain in the neck, stalling your growth and progress.
Yes, it all starts and ends with your boss.
Build an effective positive relationship with your boss and your work life will get easier, you will feel more satisfied and your career will be more «bullet-proofed» against unexpected nasty surprises.
Ask yourself a question «How is my relationship with my boss?» and if you hesitate to give a positive answer, you have stuff to work and improve on.
Here’re some easy ways to improve your most important work relationship.
clarify your boss’ expectations often
If there is one important ongoing dialogue you need to be having with your boss regularly, it’s this one. Understand their expectations of you and negotiate them. What does your boss need you to do in the short term and in the medium term? What will constitute success? Critically, how and when is your performance being measured? If you feel that your boss’s expectations are unrealistic, you need to dialogue about it to reset them. It’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver.
study and match his/her style
Do you know what forms of communication your boss prefers and for what? Face-to-face? Voice, electronic? How often? How do your communication and management styles differ? Study up and use a technique called “matching.” Matching is a conscious flexing of your style in order to establish rapport with someone whose style is different from yours. In other words, your boss might be more results-driven and less relationship-oriented than you. You may communicate in different ways, motivate in different ways and prefer different levels of detail. But it is your job to adapt to your boss’s style. It might mean that you have to curb your natural instinct for small talk. Or vice versa: you might need to slow down and connect to your boss on a human level first. I’d also advise to study up on what makes your boss tick, and what sets them off – it’s important info for when you want to get their buy-in for your ideas.
take work off their plate rather than add it
Before and after every interaction with your boss, ask yourself «Am I putting work on her plate or taking work off?’ That’s the principal rule of managing up: taking more offyour boss’s plate than putting on it. Many bosses complain about employees who always want a piece of them. Maybe you have someone similar in your team? If you’re not sure how to reduce your boss’s workload, just ask them. By knowing your boss’ priorities and goals, you can focus on three most important tasks or projects that will make the biggest impact.
don’t bring up a problem without a solution
Don’t raise a problem with your boss without being prepared to recommend at least one solution or at least share a plan for how you can begin addressing it. Moreover, don’t run to your boss each time you face a problem. See it as an opportunity to define your job yourself. When you do have to bring in bad news, adjust to your boss’s personality : style and frame it in a way that will help you avoid a sticky situation and get the approval and necessary resources.
stay on their radar
I’ve heard many senior executives and CEOs say that women don’t stop by their offices without being invited, whereas male employees do. We often worry about disturbing our bosses or annoying them. Don’t wait for your boss to call you – reach out to them yourself. More so if you have uncomfortable interactions with your boss and would rather do the opposite. Don’t take the risk of creating potentially crippling communication gaps: get on your boss’ agenda regularly. When you meet them, be sure your boss is aware of the issues you are working on but don’t use your meeting to run down the checklist of everything you’ve been doing. Focus on the most important three things you really need to share or on which you need action.
learn how to tell the truth
There will be times when you’ll need to report bad news or an emerging problem, or your boss might ask for feedback on a situation. Telling the truth to power can be scary and we might be tempted to lie or to sweeten the pill. However the worst thing is for your boss to learn about a problem from someone else. When expressing the hard truth, detach your emotions, de-personalize and talk about it as if it was a weather report from last week. Don’t make it personal about you or your boss. Talk like you’ve got no interest in the game, even if you do.
stay positive and don’t take anything personally
Has it ever happened to you when you felt your boss didn’t like you? You’re not the only one. A lot of people feel disliked by their boss. The first step is to determine if it’s your imagination or a fact. If no serious breach/error on your part was involved here, my advice is to find another interpretation early on. Maybe they’re stressed out, struggling with lack of ressources or new demands, having a mid-life crisis, going through divorce, etc. It’s also possible that they picked up on your distant or tense energy and feel disliked by you. Talk to a colleague who doesn’t have a chip on the shoulder against your boss and ask them to share their perspective on him or her. In other words, try to see your boss through someone else’s eyes. Find positive traits and behaviors. To boost and change your attitude (which your boss is likely to be picking up on), you need to surrender any judgment you have about their personality and style : you can’t label it as “difficult” or “bad” or “tough,” no matter how foreign it feels to you.
To sum it up, your relationship with your boss will begin improving dramatically if you
take the full responsibility for making it work
Assume that it’s your job solely to make this relationship work. If your boss happens to meet you half way, it will be a nice surprise.
Don’t get me wrong. Managing up is not about putting up with a bad situation. It’s about figuring out how to do your job and add value to your company in the most effective way possible, with the boss you were given.
Needless to say, the time and energy you invest into this is worth its weight in gold.