John McLachlan and Karen Meager
How do you interact with your boss? Do you even think about it? Taking the time and making the effort to manage your boss is the key to a successful career, not to mention a much easier and enjoyable working week. When you manage your boss, you will be able to take charge of your own workload and time, rather than your boss being constantly on your back to get things done, sort things out or pick up the stuff they don’t want to do. You will be able to do the interesting complex and rewarding work that you really want to do by becoming valuable and useful to them.
There are a few essential things to grasp when managing your boss:
Understand their motives and preferences
Successfully managing your boss involves knowing what they need and giving them it. When we say this, we don’t mean simply give them what they ask for. A lot of the time, your boss doesn’t know exactly what they need or they don’t have the time to explain it fully enough for you to be clear. What we are talking about is working out what motivates them and what they prefer and then delivering whatever you are doing in that way. It involves you adapting to their motives and preferences and not just surface stuff like ‘they like to socialise’ but rather understanding what really floats their boat- is it getting recognised? Do they care about teamwork?
To work out your boss’s motives and preferences you need to pay attention to what they do and what they spend their time on. Managing your boss effectively means looking behind what they ‘say’ they want and observe how they actually behave on a day-to-day basis, as this is what is really important to them. If they say respect is important but then treat people badly – it’s not really important. If they like people to be on time, be on time. When you understand their motives and preferences, you can present ideas to them and talk to them in terms of their interests.
Make their Life easier
Your boss is busy and the best way to manage your boss is to make their life easier. When you do that, they feel that you are doing what they want you to do and will believe you are a safe pair of hands. Do you know what their diary is like? By understand the flow of their day and week you can deliver information to them at a time they when they will receive it best, rather than when they don’t have time to read it. If they always have a meeting with their boss on a Friday and are running around in the morning asking for all sorts of data, you should know that and give it to them on the Thursday night.
Don’t try to teach your boss things they are not interested in or get them to work in the way that suits you best – that is not a good recipe for career progression. Make their life easier and yours will be as well. Too often we think in terms of explaining our position rather than thinking in terms of helping their position. By interacting with them in a way that will interest the, you are more likely to get you and your ideas noticed.
The problem many people have with managing their boss is that they lack assertive skills. Assertiveness is the ability to respect others whilst also respecting yourself and your position. When you are truly assertive, you take other people’s behaviours and comments much less personally and think about what is likely to be a successful outcome rather than how to win. Think ‘what is my outcome?’ when speaking to your boss. If you want them to agree to give you a deadline extension, explaining why you are going to miss it is unlikely to inspire them to say yes. Think about what they need to know to say yes instead. Will it give them a better result? Or help them avoid a problem further down the line? For example you could say “I can deliver it today, but it’s not quite how I’d like it. I like to add more by doing XYZ”. It has to be a genuine choice, not a threat. These are all key assertiveness skills you can learn and they will also give you confidence in negotiating and generally dealing with difficult situations.
Your boss has employed you for your skills and your character, give them that. If you spend your time trying to be a copy of them or what you think they want you to be you will not only be unsuccessful with that, you will be exhausted and stressed. Be yourself, let your character come out, as that will be the simplest and most effective way to do your job. We often see people in meetings behaving like a caricature or some sort of robot, trying to be something they are not.
By taking the time to understand your boss, make their life easier and being your own assertive self, you will make your time at work much more rewarding and successful. The next time you are with your boss take the time to pay attention to how they are behaving, what they are asking you or other people to do and make a note to do that the next time. People are not inconsistent, even those who look inconsistent and that is true of your boss as well. There will be a pattern to what they do and when they do it. If you decide to take the time to pay attention and work this out for your boss you will achieve much more of the things you want to achieve and much more easily develop the career you want.
About the authors:
John and Karen are the authors of the highly acclaimed book Real Leaders for the Real World, and founders of Monkey Puzzle Training and Consultancy, a leading UK training company in NLP. (www.monkeypuzzletraining.co.uk). Karen is a UKCP registered Psychotherapist and John is a Clinical Hypnotherapist.