Managing the boss: The basics
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Managing up is a necessary skill at any level. It can be challenging, but by default, the way we act will influence how the person above us treats us.
As such, like with any management approach, it is best to be informed, proactive and purposeful. Here are a few fundamental skills and actions necessary to successfully manage the boss.
Who are you?
The most important first step when we are refining our approach to managing up is to define our approach, personality, and boundaries. We need to be really clear — at least for now — as to what is important to us.
While it may change, understanding our own limits will help us anticipate our responses. In other words, if we can distinguish between our pet peeves and our deal breakers, we are in a better position to know when and how hard to push back with our boss.
For example, my colleague does not schedule meetings Friday mornings and is usually slow to start because she is in a wine club that meets Thursday nights. She knows that if her boss does something that normally is just an annoyance on a Friday morning, the odds her she will be disproportionately annoyed by her boss’s action.
As such, she is sure to schedule her response to her boss later in the day, if possible, and if not, she will take extra precautions to ensure she does not blow the issue out of proportion.
Who are you, part two?
The second priority is to know the boss. What are her pet peeves, hot buttons or deal breakers? What do her actions say about her and how do those compare with what she says? How does she spend her time and what types of issues get her attention?
Knowing her like we know ourselves can help us ignore things that might otherwise get our ire up or expedite our actions, knowing the relevance of the request.
Consider any movie where the boss had these crazy demands on seemingly unimportant items (coffee a certain way; specific pens; certain meeting protocols). We may or may not ever know the reason the boss wants things the way she does and that is OK.
The important thing is that we know the way she wants these things and since we do, we should make sure they are addressed. There is a difference between being a sycophant and paying attention to detail; the latter will lead to a longer, more sustainable and successful working relationship.
If we are in this position for the long haul, our boss impacts most of our day or we just have the time to practice, the next best thing to do is to capture the above information. An easy way to do this is via email to ourselves or a fictional interviewer.
Without wordsmithing, explain what could make you quit, what practically guarantees your success and everything in between. Then do the same thing as if you were making a referral for the boss.
Taking the time to articulate this narrative can help us see the deltas, overlaps and inevitable ways our styles mesh (or don’t). Putting it down for a while, then referring to it after a period of time can help provide us with perspective, additional clarification and more examples to refine our understanding.
The bottom line is, the more focus and attention we can give to understanding ourselves and our bosses, the better we will be able to successfully manage up.
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