Having a healthy, positive relationship with your boss makes your work life much easier — it’s also good for your job satisfaction and your career. But some managers don’t make it easy. Bad bosses are the stuff of legend. And too many managers are overextended, overwhelmed, or downright incompetent — a topic that HBR has covered extensively over the years. Even if your boss has some serious shortcomings, it’s in your best interest, and it’s your responsibility, to make the relationship work.
HBR recently ran a special series on managing up, asking experts to provide their best practical advice for navigating this important dynamic. Together, these pieces provide a good primer on how to maintain an effective, productive working relationship with your own boss.
To start, consider the type of manager you have. Many pose a unique set of challenges that require an equally unique set of skills to handle. Perhaps you’re dealing with:
- A brand new boss, someone you’ve never met before.
- A manager you don’t see face-to-face because she works in another location
- An insecure boss (hint: it’s important to know how to tame his ego)
- An all-knowing or indecisive boss
- A manager who gives you conflicting messages
- A long-winded boss
- A hands-off boss
- A manager who isn’t as smart as you
- A boss that’s actually a board of directors
No matter what type of manager you have, there are some skills that are universally important. For example, you need to know how to anticipate your boss’s needs — a lesson we can all learn from the best executive assistants. You need to understand what makes your boss tick (and what ticks her off) if you want to get buy-in for your ideas. Problems will inevitably come up, but knowing the right way to bring a problem to your boss can help you navigate sticky situations.
You and Your Team
There will, of course, be times when you disagree with your boss, and that’s OK — as long as you’ve learned to disagree in a respectful, productive way. Still, despite your best efforts to build a good relationship, there may come a time when you’ve lost your boss’s trust. It happens. And while it may take some diligent effort on your part, it is possible put the relationship back on track, even if you feel like your boss doesn’t like you.
And if you scoff at all the talk of bad bosses and think, “I have a great boss,” be careful. It’s possible to like your boss too much. And being friends with your manager can be equally tricky. You don’t want your boss to be your only advocate at work. You need to find ways to demonstrate your worth to those above her as well.
Perhaps the most important skill to master is figuring out how to be a genuine source of help — because managing up doesn’t mean sucking up. It means being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company. That’s why the best path to a healthy relationship begins and ends with doing your job, and doing it well.
About the Author
Dana Rousmaniere is managing editor of HBR’s Insight Centers.
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