The idea of “managing your boss” may seem contrary to the employment relationship, yet it is a an essential aspect of managing yourself at work. How do you do it well?
The relationship with your boss
The relationship with your boss influences many aspects of your work life. These include involving you in key projects, recognising your strengths as well as providing development opportunities. An effective relationship usually means you will be able to work well.
The term ‘boss’ is subjective. Is your boss your supervisor or someone above them in seniority? For the purposes of this – apply the ideas presented to whomever you think of as your boss.
Bosses, like all employees, are humans. Not all of them are good at fostering relationships at work. Their strengths may lie in other areas. If your boss is like this, your efforts in managing an effective relationship with him/her will serve you both.
Getting to know your boss
Like any relationship, you need to get to know your boss and your boss you. There is more to it than that. You need to understand their context. That includes knowing:
- their goals and pressures
- strengths and weaknesses
- preferred style of working and communicating
- their tolerance or avoidance of conflict
People who work well with their bosses naturally endeavour to understand these things. They seek out information and observe the way things work with the boss. They develop ways of communicating and working together. This is an ongoing process because things constantly change.
The benefits of work compatibility
Developing a work compatibility with your boss means you learn to recognise when you can support your boss. That may mean providing support in areas that s/he is less strong in. It could mean organising support on tasks at critical times, providing information ahead of key meetings or arranging events to support project deadlines.
By developing this awareness of your boss’s work style and the best way to support this, recognises the implications of his/her needs in the workplace. Recognising this and acting to support effective outcomes, helps to develop a reputation as a “safe pair of hands”.
Managing your side of the relationship
As with all relationships, it “takes two to tango”. Support of your boss should not be misinterpreted. It is not about collapsing into the role of a “yes man”. Rather, retaining your own way of working while incorporating your support of your superiors as part of your professional work style.
Maintaining a healthy self-awareness of your own context is important. How these impact on your work style and interactions with colleagues and superiors needs to be recognised. Knowing your own pressure points, strengths and weaknesses, work and communication style and conflict tolerance levels are important to you being able to manage integrity of your relationship with your boss.
It can be a delicate balance
Central to the integrity of the relationship, is recognising the importance of the power dynamics. As a subordinate, you are able to support your superior. However, you will still experience frustrations with the way s/he operates at times. Knowing this and recognising when it is appropriate to say something and when not, is learned through experience.
In many situations, bosses are not always good at communicating their expectations of team members. There can be many reasons for this – some known, some unknown. Your skill at eliciting expectations, through formal and informal conversations and discussions will be important for your success.
To be successful you need RESPECT
When it is all said and done, superiors and subordinates are people – imperfect, fallible, with limited time, knowledge and understanding of each other. Recognising each other’s work style and being willing to forge a compatible work relationship is important to effective outcomes. Sometimes that can be driven by the superior, but many times by the subordinate.
The foundation of relationship success is mutual respect – a choice each party needs to make.
Gabarro, John J. & Kotter, John P. 2005. Managing your Boss in Harvard Business Review. January, 2005.