Research inside companies consistently reveals that most employees quit or move on because of a poor relationship with their immediate supervisor. In other words, people don’t quit jobs–they quit bosses. Most new managers and supervisors move into their roles because they have demonstrated technical expertise in their industry or field. They rarely begin their management careers with the experience, training and support they need to effectively manage others.
I am certainly not alone in working for some memorably bad bosses over my career. Indeed, it was rather cathartic to describe them all in writing:
Here are some strategies for how to manage your boss well, manage that all important relationship, and keep your job (or at least land on your feet in the next job):
1. Get to know your boss’ work preferences and expectations.
Does she like weekly meetings? Written reports? Email or face-to-face meetings? Find out and honor her preferences.
2. Regularly express your intention to help your boss succeed.
Find a hundred different ways to say, “If you’re successful, I’m successful.”
3. Tell your boss how you prefer to be managed.
Try using phrases like, “I work best if….” or “It really works for me when you….”
4. Ask for your boss’ advice on the organization’s politics.
Before that big meeting with your boss’ colleague, ask for his advice about land mines or hidden agendas.
5. Set boundaries and hold to them.
Be clear about what you will and won’t do. For example, I told the boss who took phone calls that I knew he wanted me to be productive and I could use those ten minutes to get work done for him. When he took a phone call, I would politely get up, leave the meeting, and go back to work. In no time at all, he broke the habit (at least when he met with me).
6. Keep your commitments to your boss and others.
No matter how annoying your boss may be, your follow through and dependability will serve to bolster your reputation in the organization.
7. Never make your boss look bad in front of his/her colleagues.
Though it may be tough to keep your mouth shut, avoid the temptation to contradict him in front of others, especially peers at his level in the organization (at least if you would like to keep your job a little longer). After listening to your boss spout off, if one of his peers asks you directly, “What do you think?” you may have to demure with a humble, “I’d like to talk this through with my boss so I’m confident I have my facts straight.” Helping your boss save face is a useful political skill.
8. Don’t gossip with your boss about other employees.
Even if your boss wants to engage you in gossip about others on your team, don’t play the game. A surprised and non-committal “Really? I wouldn’t have imagined that about her” is enough. I’ve also used an “Oh, dear, I think I may have said/done the same thing at one time.”
What I am suggesting is that you focus on making your working relationship with your boss pay off. Somebody promoted him or her into their boss role. Whether it is because they’re highly skilled, married into the business family, or happened to be in the right place at the right time, the bottom line is that you are not the boss, they are. After all, you can always go into business for yourself once you have gained the experience you need. It worked for me.
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