This article was originally published on May 17, 2018, and has been updated.
How many times have you heard the terms “managing your boss” or “managing up?”
I don’t know who decided this would make your life easier, and there are plenty of reasons “managing your boss” isn’t the right way to go.
- As someone who has been the boss, I find it quite disrespectful.
- Regardless of your relationship with them, there is a huge power differential tilting towards your boss.
- Most employees don’t realize the relentless pressure their boss deals with, and you are just one more pressure—get over yourself!
That might sound harsh, but hear me out.
There are ways to build a better relationship with your boss that don’t involve managing them.
So, what can you do?
Partner with your boss!
You and your boss are involved in a dynamic alliance which calls on both of you to partner in achieving your goals.
Before we move on to ways you can be a better partner to your boss, let’s find out how well you’re partnering right now.
How well do you partner with your boss?
Answer “Yes” or “No” to the following questions:
- Do you and your boss share information, stories and tasks? (Y/N)
- Do you feel you’re playing on the same team? (Y/N)
- Do you have a joint interest in the goals you are trying to achieve? (Y/N)
- Are you and your boss strongly aligned in pursual of goals? (Y/N)
- Do you associate comfortably in an informal setting? (Y/N)
- Do you know where you stand? (Y/N)
- Would you say you work well together? (Y/N)
- Do you trust your boss? (Y/N)
- Does your boss trust you? (Y/N)
- Would you say you are currently “partnering with your boss”? (Y/N)
Total # of “Yes” answers ____
How did you do?
8–10 “Yes” answers: You have a solid partnership with your boss. Focus your attention on ways to improve it.
5–7 “Yes” answers: Your work together could probably be more productive and pleasant. Focus your attention on deficits in skills, differences in work styles or management approaches. Then find answers to help improve them.
1–4 “Yes” answers: Your partnership with your boss needs work. Focus your attention on issues of work style, trust, skills, and ethics. You will probably want to build a plan to approach your boss about resolving some issues together.
6 Tips for Partnering With Your Boss
If your partnership with your boss could be improved (and let’s face it, there’s always room for improvement) you won’t want to miss these tips for partnering with your boss.
1. Try to understand your boss.
You need to understand your boss and their working context:
- Goals and objectives
- Pressures and issues
- Strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots
- Preferred work style
Then, you need to do the same for yourself!
2. Don’t try to reform your boss.
Your boss is human with strengths and limitations, so it’s a far more productive approach to build on strengths rather than trying to remedy limitations.
3. Build on strengths.
One effective way to support your boss is supporting them in doing what they are good at.
4. Focus strengths on things that matter.
Strengths matter but their real value only comes when they are applied to the things that matter.
Start by asking, “what do they need from me to perform?”
5. Find what works.
This is not about “crawling” to the boss.
You need to start with what you consider to be the right thing to do. Find ways to communicate these to your boss and have them accepted.
6. Build your relationship.
Go about building your relationship based on regular, open communication, built on trust, respect, and understanding.
When you’re taking these steps for building a better relationship with your boss, you will also want to deal with your frustrations about being overloaded.
How to Avoid Being Overloaded or Having Your Time Wasted
Your boss is paying your pay cheque; asking you to do work shouldn’t be a surprise or considered illegitimate.
What is not legitimate is an overload or waste of your time.
If you feel it’s come to that point, here’s what to do next:
- Tell your boss when you are reaching the saturation point.
- Make her aware of consequences if she tries to overload you, “Yes I could get that done by then, but that would delay this…”
- Don’t say “yes” to everything your boss asks you to do. Negotiate!
- Ask your boss to prioritize when they give you a list of tasks.
- When asked to do something, get details and, if possible, say you’ll get back to her or take a look at it.
- Work out what the job involves.
- Find out who else could be involved.
- Go back with an answer, “Here’s what I can do.”
Something to remember.
Your boss is your boss, and you will never win in a power struggle with them. If you think you can do better: get qualified, apply for the job, and give it a shot!
But in the meantime, building a better relationship with your boss and partnering with them instead of managing them is a great place to start.
If you’ve been thinking about moving your career to the next level, you’ll also want to have a look at my 1-on-1 coaching services.
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