One of the most important relationships in our careers is the relationship we have with our boss. And let’s face it, with the predominance of matrix reporting, global operations and incessant restructurings, that manager may change more frequently than we’d like!
And worse yet, we may have several bosses who we need to keep happy at the same time...and who may sit in different locations as well as time zones. According to Inc Magazine, three out of four employees report that their boss is the most stressful part of their job.
First and foremost it’s critical to be aware of and avoid the most common pitfalls when thinking about how to manage this all important relationship:
- Don’t just come with problems – convert your complaints and problems into practical solutions. Nobody likes a whiner or someone who just delivers bad news.
- No surprises - not keeping the boss in the loop on key issues, especially those which you know he or she is extra sensitive about, is dangerous territory. There’s nothing worse than the boss hearing about an issue from someone else in the organisation which you should have kept them up to date on.
- Don’t go over the boss’ head – no one likes to be undermined, especially the boss. You should of course expand your network beyond your direct boss, but always talk positively about the boss and don’t position yourself as trying to work around them.
- Don’t respond negatively to feedback – honest feedback from the boss is ‘gold dust’. The reality is a boss that gives you upfront – albeit tough feedback – is incredibly valuable. Therefore it’s critical that you respond positively and professionally to all feedback.
- Avoid gossip – when you gossip the boss will wonder what does she say about me behind my back? It’s a bad reflection on you. No one likes to work with a gossiper.
So now that you know which pitfalls to avoid (the defense), let’s focus on what you can do to build that relationship (the offense).
Regardless of what it says on your job description, your top priority is always to make your boss successful. When you do this, that behaviour will likely be reciprocated. By aligning your goals, interests and ambition to this overriding priority, you will find the path to your individual success a lot quicker.
What does success look for the boss? For every new role, new project, new boss (as well as at the start of a new performance cycle) ask the boss
- What are your priorities & how can I help you achieve those?
- How involved do you want to be in xyz?
- How do you want me to communicate with you?
- What does success look like for my role in six months from now? One year from now?
These questions will help align expectations and clarify communication, plus you’re sending a signal: “I care about my career. I care about doing a good job. I’m taking ownership of my role and my career!”
The challenge of course is that not all bosses are good at articulating what they really care about or their preferred working style or method of communication. It’s then time to put on your detective hat and test and confirm the potential answers by talking to trusted colleagues. No sense in reinventing the wheel - you’re unlikely to the first person that ever worked your boss. Good luck with the challenge. One thing’s for sure … it’s a relationship worth investing in for your sake, the boss’ sake and the sake of the organisation.