Managing Your Boss

Pressure faced by the BossDon’t blame the boss. He has enough problems.
Donald Rumsfeld 

Your Boss is not your best friend, neither is he a monster. He is a fallible human being like everyone else. He is not all knowing and neither does he have extra sensory perception.

If you are lucky you might get a boss who is competent, a good mentor interested in your advancement and confident in your abilities.

But that is not always the case.

So, how do you manage a not so great relationship with your boss?

Whether you agree or not – the onus of maintaining a functional relationship rests with you. All you need to do is to take charge and see how you can get a handle on the situation, so as to steer it back to functionality.

The key, lies in understanding him/her and generating a certain self-awareness so that you can adapt accordingly.

Understand Your Boss

Managing the relationship with your boss requires that you get a clear knowledge of your boss and his context. These would include an understanding of His/her-

  • Goals and objectives.

Get a clear picture of his organisational goals and personal goals and objectives.Informal chats with him and his peers to whom you have access to can help you get a firm understanding.

  • Pressures

What are the pressures he is facing from his superiors? From his peers? From the clients/ customers? Stay alert to cues.

  • Expectations

There are some superiors who spell out expectations clearly – but most might not be very clear. Get them clarified by asking questions and staying alert to hints and feedback. It is important to be patient and not to take things on face value. Test out your assumptions.

  • Work Style

Work styles are varied. And there are many instances where a small difference in work styles – can be the cause of friction which when left unattended – can blow up into major communication breakdowns. To get a clear understanding you should be able to answer the following questions-

How does your boss want to receive information?

Understand how your boss likes to receive information–face-to-face, memo, e-mail or weekly staff meeting–and manage the information flow  accordingly.

What info does he want to receive?

Some bosses need to have a pulse on the situation. So their comfort level would lie in knowing every detail. He might expect you to hold nothing back and share all the information pertaining to your work. There are others who would rather delegate and expect you to come to them only with major issues.Get it clear and adapt accordingly.

How much info does he want to receive?

How much information your boss needs about what you are doing will vary significantly depending on the situation he or she is in, and the confidence the boss has in you. Managing this upward flow of info can be a challenge especially if your boss does not like to hear about problems. One way to get around it is by utilising the MIS. Another is to just bite the bullet and communicate the good or bad news immediately.

Understand Your Self

You are not going to change your basic personality or that of your Boss. But self-awareness  on things that make you click, those which facilitate as well as those that impede working with your boss can make your relationship more effective.Self awareness can be achieved by knowing how your colleagues perceive you or taking cognizance of what your previous boss has to say about your work style.

a.      Expectations

Be clear about your expectations. It is your responsibility to communicate your expectations to your boss, find out if they are realistic. Get an acceptance from the boss on the ones which are important to you.

b.      Idiosyncracies

What are your idiosyncrasies? Do you have any innate predispositions  towards authority figures? Some people tend to rebel when facing a very directorial boss. While there are others who look at boss as an all knowing , care taking father figure. Having either of these tendencies can have a negative impact on your career. But being aware and adapting accordingly can help you overcome this challenge.

  • Adapt/Respond/Communicate

Once you have a clear understanding of your boss and yourself – you can take necessary steps suiting to the situation.

Though the superior – subordinate relationship is one of mutual dependence – it is also one where the subordinate is more dependent on the boss.

You might resent that on top of all their other duties, you have to take time and energy to manage your relationship with your boss. But this activity is of prime importance and can go a great way in simplifying your job. Ultimately YOU are responsible for what you achieve in an organization. You need to establish and manage relationships with everyone on whom you depend – and that includes the boss.

For a more in depth reading on the subject refer to – John J.Gabarro and JP Kotter – HBR – 2005 Managing your Boss 


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