Wednesday, 7 August 2013 00:00
At one point or another in your career, you will report to a manager, the person you fondly – or not – call boss. The relationships that you create and manage, with both your immediate boss, and other company employees, are critical for your work success and career progress.
You’re the person in charge of your relationship with your boss. No one will ever share as much concern as you do that the quality of the relationship helps you achieve your goals. At the same time, your boss has information that you need to succeed. He can’t do his/her job or accomplish their goals without your help.
So, your manager shares a critical interdependence with you. If you don’t accomplish your work, your manager will never shine for his or her overall responsibilities. You won’t progress without the information, perspective, experience, and support of your manager.
Despite knowing this, managers do come in every size and with all possible levels of skill and effectiveness. Some managers are just plain bad bosses; others are unaware of what you need from them. Managing up is challenging, but ultimately, worth your time.
These steps will help you develop a positive, ongoing, supportive relationship with your boss – a relationship that serves you well, your manager well, and, as a consequence, your organisation well.
The first step in managing up is to develop a positive relationship with your boss. Relationships are based on trust. Do what you say you’ll do. Keep timeline commitments. Never blind side your manager with surprises that you could have predicted or prevented. Keep him/her informed about your projects and interactions with the rest of the organisation. Tell the boss when you’ve made an error or one of your reporting staff has made a mistake. Cover-ups don’t contribute to an effective relationship. Lies or efforts to mislead always result in further stress for you as you worry about getting “caught” or somehow slipping up in the consistency of your story. Communicate daily or weekly to build the relationship. Get to know your manager as a person – he is one, after all. He shares the human experience, just as you do, with all of its joys and sorrows.
Recognise that success at work is not all about you; put your boss’s needs at the centre of your universe. Identify your boss’s areas of weakness or greatest challenges and ask what you can do to help. What are your boss’s biggest worries; how can your contribution mitigate these concerns? Understand your boss’s goals and priorities. Place emphasis in your work to match his/her priorities. Think in terms of the overall success of your department and company, not just about your more narrow world at work.
Look for and focus on the “best” parts of your boss; just about every boss has both good points and bad. When you’re negative about your boss, the tendency is to focus on his worst traits and failings. This is neither positive for your work happiness nor your prospects for success in your organisation. Instead, compliment your boss on something he does well. Provide positive recognition for contributions to your success. Make your boss feel valued. Isn’t this what you want from him for you? Your boss is unlikely to change; s/he can choose to change, but the person who shows up to work every day has taken years and years of effort on his/her part to create. And, who your boss is has worked for her in the past and reinforced her actions and beliefs. Instead of trying to change your boss, focus instead, on trying to understand your boss’s work style. Identify what s/he values in an employee. Does s/he like frequent communication, autonomous employees, requests in writing in advance of meeting, or informal conversation as you pass in the hallway? Your boss’s preferences are important and the better you understand them, the better you will work with him/her.
Learning how to read your boss’s moods and reactions is also a helpful approach to communicate more effectively with him. There are times when you don’t want to introduce new ideas; if he is preoccupied with making this month’s numbers, your idea for a six-month improvement may not be timely. Problems at home or a relative in failing health affect each of your workplace behaviours and openness to an improvement discussion. Additionally, if your boss regularly reacts in the same way to similar ideas, explore what he fundamentally likes or dislikes about your proposals.
Learn from your boss: Although some days it may not feel like it, your boss has much to teach you. Appreciate that s/he was promoted because your organisation found aspects of his/her work, actions, and/or management style worthwhile. Promotions are usually the result of effective work and successful contributions. So, ask questions to learn and listen more than you speak to develop an effective relationship with your boss.
Ask your boss for feedback: Let the boss play the role of coach and mentor. Remember that your boss can’t read your mind. Enable him to offer you recognition for your excellent performance. Make sure he knows what you have accomplished. Create a space in your conversation for him to praise and thank you.
Value your boss’s time: Try to schedule, at least, a weekly meeting during which you are prepared with a list of what you need and your questions. This allows him/her to accomplish work without regular interruption.
Tie your work, your requests, and your project direction to your boss’s and the company’s overarching goals: When making proposals to your boss, try to see the larger picture. There are many reasons why your suggestion may not be adopted: resources, time, goals, and vision.
Maintain strict confidentiality: In your relationship with your boss you will sometimes disagree and occasionally experience an emotional reaction. Don’t hold grudges. Don’t make threats about leaving. Disagreement is fine; discord is not. Get over it. You need to come to terms with the fact that your boss has more authority and power than you do. You are unlikely to always get your way
Never hold back pertinent information: Even if something you tell your boss may cast you in a worse light, omitting key details is a definite no, says Kristi Hedges a managing partner at Element North, a leadership development firm. “Tell it straight and avoid lies of omission,” Hedges says. “Don’t hold back information that may be hard to deliver, or feedback that [your boss] needs to be successful.”
Be a team player: For many supervisors, the element of trust is also determined by how employees interact with their peers. It’s important to work as a team and contribute where your help is needed rather than solely seeking attention for your own projects. There’s a fine line between being ambitious and seeming to be out for yourself.
Go beyond the office: Whether it’s an occasional lunch with your manager or the casual non work-related conversation, by getting to know him or her on a more personal level, you build trust because you find more points of connection. Ask for feedback during these informal gatherings, which can also help you establish a more trusting relationship.
Demonstrate consistency: You can build trust by demonstrating a stable mood and composure, and reacting consistently to challenges, Hedges says. If you tend to have weeks of productivity coupled with days where you’re less productive, aim to be more consistent.
Don’t over promise: It can be easy to commit to several projects just to find out you can’t finish them all at the end of the day. Poor follow-up trashes trust. Even if your boss isn’t looking over your shoulder, make a point to meet any deadlines you’ve set for yourself and don’t set the bar too high.
Be loyal to your company: If you are a valuable employee, you will definitely attract invitations to join other companies; other companies may approach you to find out about things in your company. If you feel you need to leave to promote your career, by all means do so. But good leadership skills demand that you never bad mouth your company or your boss in this process. These types of things get around and you will be branded as an untrustworthy person.
Be dependable: Your boss should be able to depend on you for any given task. He should be able to count on you to bring any given task to its logical end. Dependability is one of the key good leadership skills that you need to develop.
Ability to admit mistakes: You should be able to admit your failures. Your boss will appreciate, respect and definitely trust you if he knows that you are a person who owns up when you commit a blunder. Good leadership skills demand that you be honest.
Be completely transparent in your work dealings: Be completely transparent in your work dealings with team members, those you manage, customers and superiors. Transparency and a willingness to share information are seen as positive attributes that enhance the feeling of trust at work place.
Show respect: Good leadership skills will have you show respect not only to your superiors, but also your team members and those you manage. Showing respect to all – and not only to those from whom you expect something – indicates strength of character and earns everyone’s trust and respect.
[Dr. Nalin Jayasuriya (DBA, California, USA) is a much sought-after business and management consultant. He is also a management trainer of international repute. Dr. Nalin was a visiting lecturer to the Marketing Institute of Singapore, addressed the Indian Chamber of Commerce, Selangor on three occasions, addressed the CEO Forum in Brisbane, Australia and has presented management papers in the USA, UK, Greece, Poland, South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia, India, Kenya, Dubai and Pakistan. Dr. Nalin has trained over 5,000 senior managers in over 15 countries since 1988. He has been a consultant to Airport and Aviation Services, Ceylon Electricity Board, SriLankan Airlines, SLTPB – Ministry of Tourism and to several multinational and blue-chip companies in Sri Lanka. He was co-consultant to set up the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), the first multi-sector regulatory agency in Asia. Dr. Jayasuriya has led consultancy assignments for the World Bank, Asian Development Bank, UNDP, Institute of World Problems (USA) and PricewaterhouseCoopers.]