30 April 2012

Managing Your Relationship with the Boss

Do you have a boss who lacks the skills for managing others?
Or one who is not interested in becoming a better boss?

Don’t be disheartened. Instead, take the lead in managing your relationship with your boss.
This is not as difficult to do as it may sound.

You have been hired to be productive. Your productivity–which benefits you, your boss and your organization—depends upon a high-quality relationship between you and your manager. To develop this, you need to understand what is expected of you, your boss’s needs and preferences, and your own needs and preferences.

Here’s how you can master these three worlds:

World of Work
To do your job effectively and efficiently, you need to be clear about what is expected from you. But if your boss is always rushing from one meeting to another, or is poor at communicating, you may be working without proper direction.

In that case, it’s up to you to get the answers to three key questions:
  • When is the assignment due?
  • Is the work a top, middle, or low priority?
  • Whom can you ask for help, if necessary?
For example, perhaps your boss needs a report or slideshow, a convention or exhibition to be organized, a follow-up with a client, a vacancy to be filled, or a product design. As soon as you get the assignment, ask for a deadline and get a sense of how much priority the boss gives it. This will help you decide how much time, energy and skills to devote to that assignment versus your other projects.

Also, find out who you should turn to if you run into problems. Some bosses may prefer that you check back with them. Others may not have the bandwidth to help you with problem-solving – he or she will want you to talk with co-workers or someone with more experience.

World of Your Boss
Like it or not, subordinates have to adjust to their manager. To do this, you need to understand your boss’s needs and preferences. Look for clues about your boss’s approach to processing information, making decisions, working with others, and communicating. In these four broad areas of managerial action, every boss has a distinct style.

Management guru Peter Drucker said that managers with an auditory orientation have to be talked through information, while managers with a visual orientation prefer a written summary of main points. Decision-making preferences also vary. Some consult broadly with many co-workers, others with a trusted group of associates, and still others fly solo. When working with subordinates, some are hands-on, issuing a continual stream of instructions so that the job is done exactly as they would have done it. Others give subordinates the autonomy to implement an assignment in their own way.

Communication styles vary even more. Some bosses are formal and have occasional interactions, while others prefer continual camaraderie. Some start with the big picture, others with details.

Chances are that your personal style will not be totally compatible with that of your boss. Regardless, your wisest course of action is to aim at being an honest, dependable, and loyal employee who willingly makes many adjustments to your boss’s work habits and style.

By adjusting, you will connect better with your boss.

Note that if your boss is abusive or patently unfair, then adjusting is not the solution.

Your World
In order to establish a good relationship with your boss, you also need to learn how to better manage yourself. Each assignment that you complete gives you a snapshot of your abilities and limitations.

In some of your conversations with your boss, you can familiarize him or her with a few achievements of which you are particularly proud. At the same time, you can ask for guidance and feedback about what you do well and how you need to improve.

Simply observing your boss can stimulate self-development–you may feel inspired enough to emulate him or her, or disenchanted enough to do the opposite when it is your turn to manage others.

Get rid of unrealistic expectations. A boss is not a parent. A workplace cannot satisfy all one’s personal needs such as desire for affection, attention, inclusion by others, adventure, or total control over circumstances or other people. A realistic assessment of how one’s personality is wired is very helpful for managing relationships with any boss (and others) with greater finesse.

By arming yourself with self-knowledge and the willingness to continually learn and improve, you prepare yourself for making your way in today’s ever-evolving world of work.

When working with a difficult boss, I often gratefully recall a conversation with a senior colleague. “Think of bosses as FIRE,” she said. “You do not want to get too close because you will burn. And you do not want to get too far because you will be left out in the cold.”

This is useful counsel even for managing your relationship with your boss.

Related articles:
5 Rules Of Etiquette That You Should Know In The Office
Pick Your Battles in the Workplace
How to Handle a Horrible Boss


Written By: Meena Wilson
Meena Wilson is Jamshedpur-based senior associate at the global leadership development firm Center for Creative Leadership and author of “Developing Tomorrow’s Leaders Today: Insights from Corporate India.” Follow India Real Time on Twitter @indiarealtime.

As published in: Wall Street Journal - 13 April 2012


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