If you didn’t already know, the most significant factor impacting your job satisfaction is your relationship with your direct manager.
Not surprisingly, clients often bring me stories about the difficulty of working with their bosses. It’s not always that these supervisors are bullies or tyrants; it’s simply that many employees don’t prioritize building a good relationship with their manager.
The value of a good relationship is that it gives you a solid foundation when stressful times arise. Without one, you don’t have the open communication and sense of trust needed to resolve issues between you quickly.
If they go unaddressed, these are issues over which you could grow fatigued and frustrated—and eventually, quit.
Instead, you should have a strategic plan to “manage up” and figure out how to work with your manager more effectively. No matter how good or bad your manager may be, it’s vital—and, honestly, it’s your job—to make this relationship work.
Why leave the quality of that relationship solely in your manager’s hands? Here’s what you can do to take charge and start managing up.
1. Embrace the Mission
Your job is to support your boss’ success. That’s what you were hired to do. Managers don’t want people on their team who drag them down. They look for people to make them look like rock stars. Understand and accept this as your mission.
2. Develop a Positive Relationship
If you think about it, you spend more time with your manager than with nearly any other person in your life. Yet so many people leave the nurturing and tending of this relationship to chance—or neglect it completely.
Instead, intentionally get to know your manager as a person. I’m not saying you need to plan a camping trip or become best buds. But get a sense for who he or she is as a person. Where did she come from? How did she get where she is now? What are the lessons she learned along the way?
Simple questions that help you to get to know one another can go a long way toward helping you understand your manager’s goals, perspective, and behavior—and respond accordingly.
3. Understand His or Her Goals
All employees should know their direct manager’s goals, objectives, and desired outcomes. If you aren’t clear on those things, now’s the time to set up a one-on-one meeting to fix that. Why? Because everything you do is directly tied to that. By understanding his or her goals, you’ll be able to see how your work ties into the group’s success.
(Plus, by seeing how you’re part of something bigger than your day-to-day responsibilities, you’ll up your satisfaction factor at work, too.)
4. Anticipate His or Her Needs
Once you understand your boss’ goals, you’ll be better equipped to anticipate his or her needs.
For example, if you know that your manager’s goal is to sign contracts with six new clients over the next month, notice when there are high-priority prospect meetings on his calendar and ask what he needs from you to be prepared.
By asking for what your manager needs before he thinks to ask you for it, you’ll make a welcome contribution—without looking like you’re sucking up.
5. Never Let Him or Her Get Blindsided
You know bad news is coming. There’s a miserable customer or an unhappy business partner poised to escalate over your head. That means your boss is going to get the call.
There’s only one thing to do: Let your manager know before that call comes in.
There’s nothing more annoying to a manager than being caught off guard and knowing nothing about the situation at hand. When you know that call is coming, get your boss the details of the situation and the corrective action that’s already in play (because you’ve already taken care of that, right?) so he or she is prepared and confident when that phone rings.
6. Do Your Job Well
One of the best ways you can manage up is to manage you. Stephen Covey of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People fame said, “Effective people do two things: They strive to do excellent work, and they prioritize.”
So, do both. When you do your job well, you give your manager something to brag about in staff meetings. It’s professional capital and a point of pride for him or her. What better way is there to manage up?
7. Tell Him or Her How to Best Use Your Talents
Research shows that great managers uncover what’s unique about each person on the team—and then exploit the heck out of it.
In order for your boss to do that, you need to tell him or her what your talents are and how you can use those powers for good in the organization and to serve his or her success.
What are your strengths? What does your Myers-Briggs or DISC typology say about you? How do you deal with pressure, conflict, deadlines, and time management? What assets do you bring to the table—and how do they complement your manager’s strengths?
Once you have a firm grasp on these things, have a conversation about how best to leverage what you bring to the organization. Managing up is a process of combining the best of both of you to create success for everyone.
8. Honor Your Boss’ Time
You may be on the same team and pulling for the same results, but that doesn’t mean your boss’ time is yours for your taking.
Learn the most opportune times to collaborate with your boss—when he or she is going to be most focused on what you need—and plan your meetings for those times.
Honor your manager’s time in other ways, too. Keep commitments for meetings and phone calls. Begin them promptly and end on time. Prepare and send an agenda ahead of time so your boss knows what points you’ll be covering and you don’t get off track. Expect to lead the discussion, capture decisions, and follow up accordingly. You’ll show your boss that you value and appreciate his or her time.
9. Align Your Needs With His or Her Goals
Long ago I heard someone say, “If you’re going to ask somebody to do something, tell them why it’s good for them.”
Words could not be truer when it comes to asking something of your manager. Want to work on that new marketing project? Need her eyes on a presentation you’re working on? Want an introduction to a connection of hers?
It’s far easier for her to say “yes” when you connect those actions to her professional goals. Tell her how the project will help you become a liaison for her team, how your presentation will impact the team’s success, or how that introduction will boost her reputation as a manager and mentor.
10. Under-Promise and Over-Deliver
This almost goes without saying. If your manager needs to keep checking in and worries about you delivering on time, you’re not doing it right.
Keep your commitments. Meet deadlines ahead of time. Keep your boss in the loop about the progress you’ve made before she asks. These devilishly simple strategies make you look like a rock star—and an expert in managing up.
Don’t make the mistake—one that so many people make—of believing your manager is simply a work troll to be tolerated (or worse). Look around and see what you can do to manage up effectively. You’ll find more satisfaction and learn far more in the process.