Manage Your Boss, Manage Your Career

Isn’t Your Boss Suppose to Manage You?

Yeah, in an ideal world, your boss is smarter than you.  You boss is a leader who inspires and motivates you.  Your boss knows how to get the roadblocks out of your way and how to recognize all the things that you do right and guide you through your mistakes.  That’s the ideal world.  If you’re lucky you have a few of these bosses in your career.

They Aren’t All Like That

Bosses come in all shapes and sizes.  Some of them are brilliant and some of them are stupid.  Some of them are leaders and some of them are spineless.  Some of them know how to do your job better than you do and some of them don’t.  As you move up the organization, if you’re good, at some point you surpass your boss’ skills and ability.   If you’re lucky, that doesn’t happen until you become CEO.  For most of us, though, it happens significantly before that.

I talk to clients all the time who rail against this.  They have a certain belief set about how bosses should be and they waste an awful lot of time and energy being frustrated because bosses don’t live up to expectations.

Get Over It

I’m sorry to be unsympathetic, but we don’t get to have the boss of our choice.  Even those of us who take a job specifically to work  for a certain boss frequently get moved away from that boss long before we’re ready.  Bosses are just one more factor that you need to learn to manage to succeed at your job–just like resource constraints, market changes, difficult employees,  partnerships, etc.

Managing your boss is critical to your career success.  The great guru on management, Peter Drucker, not only said that you needed to learn to manage your boss, but also said it was “easier” than managing your subordinates.  He suggested that you write a semi-annual letter to your supervisor (that was the word they used in the 1950’s when he wrote this) that details not only your goals  for the next six months, but also what help you need from him.

So How Do You Manage a Boss?

The first thing to do is to see the world (and you) through your boss’ eyes.  Give the boss the benefit of the doubt.  What is s/he trying to do?  Why?  Remember, almost no boss gets up in the morning with a goal of making your life miserable.  They are trying to get their boss’ goals accomplished.  They are working with the resources they have (including intelligence, patience, knowledge, or lack thereof).  Your boss will be more inclined to help you/be the leader you want if s/he sees how that will get his/her goals accomplished.  Remember, bosses are people too.  They need help, appreciation, respect, and friendship just like the rest of us.  This means that you don’t make your boss’ life worse, you try to make it better.

Build the Relationship. Focus on the relationship.  Don’t take it for granted. The inability to get along with your boss is a major career derailer.  Just like marriages take work, boss/subordinate relationships take work.  Don’t wait for your boss to take the initiative–it is as much on you.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.  No surprises (either way) is an incredibly good rule.  Don’t assume that your boss knows things because you do.  Make sure your boss knows what you do to make his/her life better.  How else will they find out?

But You Don’t Want to be a Kiss Up, Right?

Don’t be a kiss-up.  Find a way to reframe the relationship so that you can be comfortable with managing your boss.  The last time I had a boss who absolutely make me crazy and I couldn’t find any comfortable way to interact, I decided to think of my boss as if she were a customer.  I was able to treat her with respect and do what she needed no matter how she treated me, and then I was able to walk away without being emotionally wounded.  Try reframing the way you see the relationship.

All of this will help make you a better boss, too.


Filed under Career Development, Executive Development, Goal Setting, Personal Change

2 responses to “Manage Your Boss, Manage Your Career

  1. Joe Knight

    Very helpful advice. Thanks!

  2. Jim McGoodwin

    It’s clear that to achieve your goals within a company you have to use the resources that are available to you (budget, time, employees). You can try to change those, but usually they’re fixed. I came to view my “boss” as just another resource.
    I had to manage taking into account his/her strengths, weaknesses and quirks. That was the job. Wishing for a “better” boss wasn’t an option. I came to see it as part of the job description. Once I viewed it that way I got passed all the wishing, anger and frustration and could get on with accomplishing my goals.

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