5 Ways to Manage Your Boss — And Why It’s Worth It
Building a strong relationship with your boss is a critical part of your career success. And it’s not just because a boss you get along with might be more likely to offer you a raise or promotion, or write you a great recommendation.
When you’re on solid footing with your manager—when you trust and respect each other, work smoothly together, and communicate seamlessly—you’re more productive and motivated. And when you’ve got that going for you, you’re healthier and happier.
Sounds awesome, right? But getting there isn’t easy. Developing and maintaining a great relationship with your boss takes time, effort, and foresight. Luckily, there’s one key driver to help you reach that goal: “managing up.”
Managing up means working toward being indispensable to your boss by making his or her job easier. Sure, it’s difficult to focus on managing up when you’re carrying a full workload. But it’s a skill that will hold you in good stead wherever you go in your career. When you manage up, you perform like a champ and make your boss look great, which makes you look great, too.
Here are five concrete ways to manage up for success:
1. Work to familiarize yourself with your boss’s logistical work style. Everyone in a workplace, at all hierarchical levels, has different preferences when it comes to work style. Think about how many meetings you attend, the number of phone calls you take and make, and all the emails you exchange with your coworkers and superiors. In the same way, you have a different approach to each, so, too, does your manager. To make communication with your boss seamless, discover how he or she prefers to connect, and then adopt it into your routine.
It won’t hurt to also find out whether office drop-ins are welcomed or discouraged on specific days. If working in an open office, it’s still important to understand whether scheduling time on the calendar is preferred. Project priorities vary from day to day, and that could change communication preferences. Even though some of your boss’s preferences might differ from your own, he or she will appreciate the efforts you make to routinely adjust to shifting needs.
2. Gain a deep understanding of your boss’s communication style. Communication is everything in all relationships. But when you’re eager to advance your career, it’s especially important at work. Communicating in solid ways with your boss is critical to working well together and setting a foundation for a rewarding professional future.
After two decades of research, Mark Murphy, founder of leadership training and research firm Leadership IQ, has identified four fundamental communication styles: Analytical, Intuitive, Functional, and Personal. Here’s the lowdown:
Analytical communicators like facts and numbers, and look at issues logically and without emotion.
Intuitive communicators jump from point A to point Z; they like out-of-the-box ideas but not nitty-gritty detail.
Functional communicators are focused on process and details, and attack projects or problems in steps.
Personal communicators use emotional language to connect, and are skilled listeners.
Identify which of these communication styles best describes your boss, and which best describes you. Then make sure you keep your boss’s style in mind—and adapt yours to it—whenever you communicate directly (say, in conversation or over email) or indirectly (like when preparing a report).
3. Take a hint from New York’s MTA: “Be someone who makes it a better ride for everyone.” In other words, be a positive force at work—behave in ways that create a better atmosphere. For starters, make sure you and your boss are aligned on expectations and what success looks like for each of you. Ask how your progress will be assessed and how often you’ll be reviewed. In discussing measurement of your own success, determine what your manager’s motivations are, and then use that intel as a guiding beacon. For instance, does your boss measure your success by revenue generated, or is he or she driven by winning buy-in from senior leadership or by helping you and your teammates grow?
In addition, managers have their own professional development goals. If you can sniff out what your boss wants to achieve—be it a promotion or a new client—you can help make that happen. For example, you could color outside the lines of your job description to take on an additional project you know would be helpful to your boss, or you can go out of your way to give him or her a big shout-out to other leaders. Now you’re managing up!
4. Take a page from psychology and try “cognitive reframing.” It’s all about perspective. By seeing every situation that’s related to your boss through his or her eyes, you can become a better ally. If you make a serious mistake, imagine the situation from your boss’s viewpoint. Let’s say you’re a first-year lawyer and you make a significant error in a big report you’ve prepared for a partner. You’ve apologized profusely and promised that it won’t happen again, but that partner passes you over when another report is needed. You feel terrible—not only because you screwed up, but also because you weren’t given a second chance. But how might you feel if you were that partner? What factors might you have taken into account to handle the problem? By putting yourself in that partner’s shoes, you’ll understand exactly where he or she is coming from, and thereby equip yourself to cope with any frustration and move forward productively.
5. Don’t surprise your boss. It’s a universal rule of bossdom, and one to take seriously: Keep your boss in the loop on all matters—good or bad— that require his or her attention. Don’t blindside your manager, and never withhold or put off key information—even if you fear a bad reaction or if you’re too swamped to share it fast. Unfortunate news won’t go away just because you delay passing it on or ignore it altogether. So handle it—quickly and tactfully.
For example, if you’re an engineer and the local zoning board has just denied a permit request your boss was counting on, tell him or her immediately, calmly, and in person, not by phone or via email. To soften the blow, suggest ways to handle the problem or offer alternative solutions, if possible. Your relationship with your boss is built on trust and great communication, so don’t let a setback ruin what you’ve worked so hard to achieve.
Once you get the hang of managing up, you’ll incorporate it naturally into your everyday work routine. And as you move up in your career and manage your own direct reports, you’ll be all the more equipped to build rewarding relationships with each of them.
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