Rules to manage your boss
Managing the boss is a critical skill in career progression that often doesn\'t get as much attention as managing subordinates. Here, I share some simple and important lessons I have observed and absorbed over my 20 years of work experience in various organisations with diverse cultures, including running my own digital marketing company.
Managing the boss is a critical skill in career progression that often doesn't get as much attention as managing subordinates. Here, I share some simple and important lessons I have observed and absorbed over my 20 years of work experience in various organisations with diverse cultures, including running my own digital marketing company.
Observe and adapt to the manager's style
Let me state the obvious: Managers are of different types and operate in different management styles.
Some prefer formality, while others prefer 'loose' reporting.
Some are extremely detail-oriented and hands-on while others adopt a high-level and hands-off approach.
Some prefer that you use their open-door policy to interact while others are extremely regimented with prior appointments a pre-requisite to you knocking on their door.
In an ideal scenario, the manager's style works matches yours to the T; however, that is a rare occurrence based on all my years of work experience.
Observe the manager closely, understand the person’s approach and style to respond and work accordingly.
This applies to those who deal with external clients too: building a good long-term working relationship with a client requires a deeper understanding of the client’s style of working and often, an adjustment to your own.
Avoid surprises, especially the bad ones
Ajaypal Banga, the CEO of MasterCard once said in an interview that it is OK for his people to take the steps to his office if there is good news; but if they have bad news, he expects them to take the elevator.
Bosses hate unpleasant surprises (who doesn't?).
It is probably a natural human tendency to delay delivering the bad news.
It may be due to a fear to face the truth and the consequences or even the hope that things might turn around quickly enough.
Either way, delayed bad news can let all hell loose. At the first signs of trouble, keep your managers and stakeholders informed.
Give a clear picture of the situation and steps being taken, and ask for feedback if necessary. You are better off over-communicating than under-communicating.
While working in Hong Kong many years ago, I faced a challenging situation where the project I was handling suddenly went a bit off-track because some folks higher up in the chain had suddenly thrown a spanner in the works after being unresponsive for a long time.
This could have also put my immediate boss -- an American -- in an awkward situation amongst his peers and the company’s top management.
So, I went to my boss and told him the situation. He lent me a patient ear and then asked, "Why did this happen?" to which my response was, "I assumed that they understood…"
He looked at me with a smile and said, "Here's an important lesson for you. Don't assume -- because when you do that, you make a fool of both you and me".
This lesson has stuck with me since then.
It is better to clarify and ensure that something is clear and understood by both you and the people above you (as also the people under you) than assuming that everyone is on the same page.
Accept feedback openly and graciously
I am appalled at how some folks turn to pointing fingers at colleagues, clients and a slew of external circumstances when a manager gives negative feedback.
It is also not a great idea to be a victim of migraine or a tummy upset and be on medical leave the day after your manager has given a piece of his mind to you.
Don't get too defensive. Take feedback from peers or your managers positively.
If there is something that you disagree with or are not comfortable with, express it without looking to find weak alibis.
Demonstrate the willingness to learn from mistakes or improve in areas that need improvement and you have a far greater chance of future opportunities finding their way to you.
Learn the art of saying ‘NO’
This is not easy by any means but mastering this is important.
Early on in my career, I simply couldn't say NO -- and I am far from having mastered this art.
What that meant is I was often working on weekends and spending time in the office till my then boss called me aside during a quarterly performance review.
He said that my performance on the job had gone down despite greater effort and I was becoming 'jaded'.
He told me bluntly that the root of the problem was my inability to say 'No' and encouraged me to do so.
Now, bosses naturally love people who are willing to go the extra mile to get things done.
However, there will be limits to how much someone can be pushed -- and it is for you to express those limits professionally and with valid reasons.
Often, the boss's expectations and the inability of the subordinate to communicate resource utilisation collide to create an unpleasant work environment.
It is important to note that saying 'No' is not about shirking responsibility and it must not seem to be so, either.
Give your manager a very clear picture of your responsibilities, your understanding of the priorities and the resource available for their execution.
Work with the manager to re-prioritise or defer tasks; such alignment of goals will foster a healthy working relationship.
Put your thinking cap on and offer solutions
Often I see people doing a good job of reporting problems.
That’s a great start, but if those problems are not reported with some possible solutions, you are missing a great opportunity to add value and increase your chances of career progression.
Chances are that none of your solutions are deemed appropriate; the important thing is to continue to develop and demonstrate a 'problem solver's mindset'.
With conscious, regular practice, you are bound to improve your problem solving ability and become invaluable to your team.
Simplifying decision-making for your manager is one sure way to move up the proverbial corporate ladder.