You manage your time. You manage your energy. You manage your engagement and enthusiasm at work and in the rest of your life. And you manage your boss—whether you know it or not.
If you learn how to manage the relationship with your boss well, your work can be more gratifying and your relationship might build into one that could serve you years after you stop working together.
Tip #1: Help Your Boss Deliver Results
Your manager's position requires projects to be completed on time, under budget, and with expected levels of quality. Your boss needs help to accomplish these parameters. A wise consultant once said, “Smart employees know that their primary job is to make their bosses heroes.” By helping your boss be seen as a hero by more senior managers or executives, you become a valued performance partner.
The 2013 Gallup Poll on Employee Engagement pointed out that only 30 percent of employees are fully engaged at work. That means your boss is spending an inordinate amount of time and energy pushing, pulling, cajoling, and negotiating with the 70 percent who are not engaged. They also are educating, dragging, and managing performance improvement plans for the 23 percent of employees who are actively disengaged. Imagine how exhausting this is! Delivering results is the number one tool at your disposal to manage your supervisor, manager or executive.
If you are a member of the 30 percent of engaged employees, you not only make your manager successful, you also save your boss's energy. All results are improved and you have a boss who will view you as someone who eases the stress of the job.
Tip #2: Help Your Boss See Your Value
If you boss doesn’t already have regular weekly or bi-monthly meetings with you, schedule them. Suggest an agenda and then stick to it. If you already have these regular meetings, make sure you add five minutes to the agenda for a short brainstorming session for mentioning your ideas to reduce waste or improve outcomes.
Some managers will welcome the addition to the agenda, others won’t. Some may even feel threatened by your suggestions. If that is the case with your boss, start slowly by finding natural points of entry in the meeting conversation. Over time, even the most oblivious of bosses will start to wonder how your ideas might play out.
Another way to approach a more recalcitrant manager is to test ideas on your own. During a 1:1 meeting, share the results and what you did to correct the glitches. As a boss, I’m always excited when one of my team tested out an idea, didn’t achieve the desired outcome, then incorporated a correction or change to accomplish the results they wanted. This shows me I have a team member who is constantly looking to improve the status quo and is willing to take calculated risks to do so. Do I want to hear about their processes and ideas? You bet!
Most managers know that useful, even great, ideas can come from anywhere at any time. Smart managers know that their ideas may be the first ones but not necessarily the best ones. The old adage, “two heads are better than one,” will help your boss more than you might realize. Your status will migrate from being just an employee to a performance partner—and over time, to a thought partner.
Keep in mind: Don't take it personally if your boss takes credit for your idea. Sometimes, bosses truly can't remember where an idea came from. Do, however, keep track of your achievements and implemented ideas so you can remind your boss at performance appraisal time.
Tip #3: Treat Your Boss Like a Person
Bosses are human too. Your manager has a life beyond work, just as you do. The days of “leave work at work and home at home” no longer exists—if they ever really did.
Many organizations promote work-life balance in their policies and practices, knowing that it reduces stress and increases happiness and productivity at work. Dr. Karen Ernest Kossek's research indicates that this balance reaps rewards of greater job satisfaction and enhanced quality of life and work performance from employees across the organization.
Still, humans are not robots. Worries over challenges with children, spouses, friends or aging parents can upset even the most stoic and dedicated boss. Work deadlines, unreasonable client expectations, and that group of 23 percent actively disengaged employees also cause undue stress and emotionally strained days.
Each of us responds to the current work environment differently. Some of us retreat inwardly, wanting to engage in only the most necessary or highly important communications. Some of us become less tolerant of peer and team members’ idiosyncrasies. Some of us loose a degree or two of emotional intelligence. However, your boss manifests this stress, as long as she is not abusive in any way, give them a break. As you would a team member or friend, even though your boss out ranks you in the organizational hierarchy, they are just a person and deserve a bit of leeway as much as anyone else..
Tip #4: Thank Your Boss
Like any person, bosses enjoy being appreciated. Middle managers are often caught between the demands of the organization, demands of executives, demands of customers and demands of employees. Many have told me that it often feels like a thankless job. Executives have the weight of the organization’s future success on their backs. Many of them work an exorbitant number of hours to match their title and compensation.
Still, as they too are human, an honest "thank you" for a bit of coaching, support for meeting your goals, or giving you a stretch assignment that is especially appealing goes a long way. Although they often receive welcomed financial bonuses, a genuine statement of thanks acknowledges your boss for his/her efforts on your behalf. Something as simple as, "Thanks boss for letting me present our status report at the senior staff meeting today," goes a long way.
Are you in that group of 70 percent disengaged employees? Practice a bit of introspection and determine what you need to engage more at work. Then, ask your boss for help.
If you are part of the 23 percent of actively disengaged employees who gossip or undermine the work of others, go through the same introspection exercise. Also determine if your boss is capable of assisting you—or is he a major part of the problem? Then, ask your boss or someone in a higher position to assist you.
If you help your boss deliver results and see your value, treat your boss like a person and thank your boss on occasion, your boss will appreciate you and be more likely to provide the resources you need to stay engaged doing your best work. You’ll also be front-of-mind as a key contributor in her area of influence.
Learning to manage the relationship with your boss is part of managing your career. Enjoy building a partnership with your manager, and stay in touch when you no longer work together.