How to manage your boss – and yes, it’s a thing

If you’re a working adult (of any age!), you’re probably used to managing your own schedule, priorities, and workload. But have you ever thought about the need to manage your boss/manager? Because believe it or not, it’s a real thing and it’s referred to in business management as managing up.

I know what you might be thinking … isn’t it my boss’ job to manage me? Why do I, then, have to think at all about managing them?

Well, to put it simply, it’s because if you don’t at least try, you’re setting yourself up to fail slowly over time. Your boss is this other human being who is arguably one of the most important relationships you’ll ever have at work – so the way you “manage” that relationship can drive your career and personal development forward fast OR lead to your demise.

The best way to go about managing your boss is by taking ownership over your end of working relationship, specifically when it comes down to communication, expectations, and problem-solving. Here are some tips on how to go about doing that:

Be clear about your career goals

A good manager strives to advance his or her employees into roles that are well-suited for their personalities, skill sets, and career goals. The more your manager knows about where you see yourself in five or ten years, or even in the next 6 months, the easier it is for them to empower you to achieve those goals and set you on the right path within the organization.

When problems arise, think about solutions

A common mistake people make when interacting with their boss or manager is bringing up complaints and problems without any thought about how to solve them. Worse yet is giving your manager the impression that you expect them to fix everything for you. The better way to approach problems is to still bring them up to your manager, but when you do, also come prepared with ideas on how to solve them. This accomplished a few things: 1) it demonstrates your own willingness and ability to solve tough problems 2) it increases your manager’s chances of successfully helping you resolve the issue, and 3) it builds trust and rapport between the two of you and decreases the likelihood of angst and frustration at the outcome.

Give your manager honest feedback

Although you may not consider it often, your manager needs constructive feedback about his or her performance and leadership just as much as you need feedback about how you’re doing. Sharing what you think is going well is one thing, but you should also remember to go straight to your manager when you don’t agree with something they’ve said or done. Nobody’s perfect and they need your input to know what they could be improving on too!

Be clear about what’s missing

Although almost every yearly performance evaluation (if you even have those!) allows an opportunity for you to answer questions about what you need to perform your job successfully, a lot of people tend to just mumble a quick, “I guess so” rather than share their honest feedback. Let your manager know what you need to perform your best at yearly evaluations AND on a regular basis: a clearer job description, retraining on certain skills, or support in a certain challenging area are a few examples. Your manager’s goal is to provide you with everything you need to be successful, but they can’t possibly know what you need unless you share that information with them.

Ask questions

Any time your manager has delivered news you don’t like, requested you complete a task you don’t feel qualified to perform, or otherwise frustrated or confused you, ask questions rather than casting judgment and getting frustrated. Questions that might help you work through your concerns will vary based on the circumstances, but here are few great examples of respectful, fact-finding questions:

  • I’m feeling confused. Can you help me understand how completing this task first would help us meet our goal faster?
  • I don’t feel qualified, but I would love to. Can you help me get the training I need?
  • I’m sure that was a complex decision. Can you explain what led you to decide that so I can understand too?

Asking questions can be a non-challenging way to get on the same page before allowing your emotions to take over.

Managing your manager isn’t a total cake-walk, but it doesn’t have to be super hard either; it just requires focused effort and an open mind on your part. The reward for doing it is high; you may be able to stay with the same company for many years in a fulfilling career that you actually enjoy and want, rather than have to start all over at a new job and company where the same issues arise or your boss is even worse!

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