“The definition of insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting different results.” ~ Unknown
“A man is only a leader when a follower stands beside him.” ~ Mark Brouwer
“It is not enough to do your best; you must know what to do, and THEN do your best.” ~ W. Edwards Deming
Sometimes we choose our bosses, sometimes we don’t. It’s the most important relationship to manage.
Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, is regarded as an innovative genius. But since his death, it has come to light that his management style was far from easy. Walter Isaacson, Jobs’ biographer said in an interview that: “He’s not warm and fuzzy… He could have been one of the world’s worst managers.” And, more recently, it has been revealed that he once became so exasperated with one Apple senior manager that he called him a “f**kchop”.
Yet, no one disputes Jobs’ success at leading Apple. Learning to manage your relationship with your boss – as senior Apple executives had to do – can have a positive impact on your career.
Here are 10 tips for managing your relationship with your boss well:
ONE | When you’re being interviewed for a job, you’re choosing who you are going to work for, so asking the right questions is of critical importance to establishing whether the person in front of you is a good fit for you. Ask who she considers a real star and what you could learn from them, or about a past project or achievement and their role in it. You’ll discover a lot about her by doing so.
TWO | What’s important to your boss? An easy way to find out is to ask what his expectations of you are, and what sort of evidence he will look for to assess whether they have been met. This is a good discussion point for an initial meeting with a new boss, although he might need some time to think about it if it is not something he has articulated before. It certainly shows that you want to get the relationship off to a good start. After all, the clearer you are about his expectations, the more likely you are to meet them.
THREE | Observe her style and reactions to situations – and identify any trends. It could be that deadlines or a prompt start to a meeting are more important to your boss than they are to you. You will notice if she gets agitated when you or others turn up late for a meeting or deadlines are not met. If your boss doesn’t like voicemail, don’t use it; if she wants detail, provide it. Check out what kinds of decisions your boss wants to be involved in, and what she wants you to handle.
FOUR | No nasty surprises. Make sure he learns any bad news from you first, rather than someone else… and ideally with enough time to prepare a response.
FIVE | Get the right balance between asking for support, working independently and getting feedback. If she is not happy about something you have done, ask for specific feedback about how things could have been done better, so you’ll know for the future. Nothing irritates more than people repeatedly making the same mistakes, because it appears that they don’t care – which is why feedback is vital.
SIX | Understand where he fits in the organization and what his objectives are. What can you do to make your boss’s job easier? For example, by preparing some initial points for a presentation he is doing, or doing an early draft of a regular report that is coming up. Not only does this create a good impression, it also helps prepare you for the next job up the ladder.
SEVEN | Speak up, have a viewpoint and be willing to challenge, but make sure you offer a balanced view rather than always pointing out the flaws in an argument. It’s better to say, ‘To achieve this, we need to X, Y and Z,’ or ‘If we did this, this would happen’. Offer choices or different scenarios. This approach also works when you want to put forward ideas to more senior colleagues. Saying something like, ‘I think this could help the organisation, but I’d need your support on X,” shows that you appreciate their position.
EIGHT | Ultimately, building a fruitful relationship with your manager (and their colleagues and managers) can have benefits that spread right across your working life. Benefits include: extending your learning opportunities because you’re planting ideas; communicating your contribution to the organisation; and improving your visibility. You may also find yourself in a better position to ask for a promotion or a change to your role.
NINE | Most importantly, working well with your boss means that you are more engaged in your work and can do your job more effectively. You need buy-in from your manager to deliver your objectives. Getting the support of your boss is crucial, even for something as straightforward as your budget and the resources you need.
TEN | Everyone has something to offer. Find that in your boss and focus on learning everything you can. Or leave. The good news is that in most cases, you don’t have to leave. You just need to manage your relationship with your boss with more empathy, more distance and more strategy.