Once upon a time (also known as the ‘old days’), companies operated from the top down. The boss told you what to do and you did it. Today, professionals are encouraged to show initiative and many don’t wait for the boss to make a decision or provide direction. With the pressures and constraints the boss is working with in our ‘get done more with less’ workplace, workers need to work together with their boss, not simply for their boss.
What that requires from employees at every level is a skill set that allows them to manage the boss effectively. Effective communication is an essential part of managing another person. It doesn’t matter whether you are managing down, laterally, or up, and your organizational level won’t matter that much either. Managing a boss requires understanding the world in which they operate, their needs as an individual, their strengths and weaknesses, and the pressures and constraints they deal with on the job.
I provide one-on-one consulting with people who are work with a boss they find especially challenging. One client told me that in 25 years of work, they had never encountered this situation before. My response was “And now you have.” No matter how long you’ve been a professional, how old you are, or how varied you life experiences – there can be times when a new person or situation encountered can create a hurdle. It can be frustrating. It can even create anger, fear, or resentment. But wishing for things (them!) to be different is a poor strategy won’t create a satisfactory solution.
Some ideas about how can you develop this essential skill set and manage your boss more successfully:
- Spend some time observing the boss. What do they well? What areas are they weak in?
Then: Anticipate the weak areas so that they do not cause you a problem. If they are terrible at meeting deadlines, start asking for what you need earlier than when you actually need it.
- Talk with your boss about goals. Learn about their priorities. Ask them to identify the critical issues in the department.
Then: Ask how you can help the team with those things.
- If your boss (or you) telecommute or spend a fair amount of time out of the office, you have less time for your relationship and more time for work. Your boss may have a lot of priorities and you are only a small piece of them. Make sure you have a regular time to connect.
Then: Always have an agenda for your regular time together so you are getting information you need to have, not just receiving information.
- Figure out your boss’s style, pace, energy and likes. Are they a morning person? Do they like reports, emails, voice mails or meetings? Are they fast paced or slow and methodical?
Then: Match their energy. Every time you do, you are creating rapport.
To manage a boss successfully, the first step is to stop hoping for them to be a different person.