• Susan Fletcher, Ph.D.

Escalating Your Career by Managing Your Boss

I recently worked with a Sales Manager who was forced to play 20 Questions every time he went to his boss for approval. Sometimes the 20 Questions game would last over an hour and end with a 2-day project before his boss would give him approval. This often meant he couldn't respond to customers in a timely manner and lost business deals. To manage his boss the Sales Manager began thinking through every question his boss could possibly ask and formulating answers. He then began calling his boss and saying, "Here is the situation, here is what I want to do, and here is why we should do it." Miraculously, the 20 Questions game ended!

I think we often look to our boss for what he/she can give us instead of what we can give to him. It's a 2-way street. Put the odds in your favor by managing your boss with the care and sensitivity with which you manage yourself.

Here are 4 Smart Moves for managing your boss:

  1. Don't dump problems on your boss. Don't go to your boss with a problem until you've formulated a possible solution. Present both the problem and the solution to your boss simultaneously. Be solution focused. Your boss will be impressed by your ability to resolve your own problem and gain confidence in your abilities. Click here to listen to my recent "Ask the Expert" interview where I describe how to be solution focused.

  • Never badmouth your boss. One of the unspoken rules successful people follow is to never talk bad about your boss and particularly not to the company higher-ups - and especially in a job interview. (Quick disclaimer: If there is an issue with your boss that needs the attention of human resources, then pursue it). You may not like a decision your boss makes or the way he treats his staff; however, gossiping about him will not get you points. It will erode the effectiveness of your team and cause dissension within your department. The belief will be: if you bad mouth your boss, you will bad mouth others. People will feel they cannot trust you and higher-ups will view you as a bad seed.

  • Use the power of equity. Know what your boss needs and values most and provide it ahead of time, without being asked. I was irritated by my first boss out of college who micromanaged everyone. Once I figured out his main goal was to stay informed on the statistics in my department I began to report them to him ahead of time. It is human nature to feel obligated to those who help us with what we need. It is just as much the employee's responsibility to help make his boss a good leader as it is for the boss to help employees feel valued and successful.

  • Compliment your boss. This may feel awkward or uncomfortable at first. I'm not talking about schmoozing, although there is evidence from a University of Michigan study that schmoozers are more likely to get raises over non-schmoozers. When your boss does something well, pay her a sincere compliment like, "You did a nice job running the staff meeting this morning. I appreciated your support." Positive feedback will reinforce the behavior and improve your relationship with your boss.

Just for fun, click here for a recent list of the 15 Great TV Bosses. My favorite is Miranda Bailey from "Grey's Anatomy." From this list of TV bosses it's clear that, like everyone else, your boss is always learning.

I have a Winston Churchill quote framed in my office that says, "We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." Take responsibility for helping your boss succeed and you will both stay in the Smart Zone!