Managing Up: How to Get the Best Out of Your Boss

This may come as a shock to some, but here’s the truth: bosses are rarely perfect.

Don’t get me wrong–perfect bosses absolutely exist. We hear tales about them all the time. They’re the ones who remember to ask about your sick daughter (and remember her name!), the ones who volunteer you for projects you’re afraid to ask for but secretly crave, and the ones who are genuinely excited about one-on-ones because it means they get to know you better. But they’re an elusive species, and I think it’s safe to say that the majority of us have a wish list of qualities we wouldn’t mind our leaders possessing.

The good news is that with a few strategies and a bit of structure, it is possible to move the needle closer to perfect on your relationship with your boss, which will allow you to establish the trust and responsibility required to excel in the workforce as a member of The 8 Percent. Here’s how to manage up and get the two of you on the same page:

Understand what makes your boss’s world go round

If you’ve ever read How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie, you know that the secret to success is to make it all about the other person and to be sincere about it. Listen to them, make them feel important, and talk in terms of their interests.

Having a great relationship with your managers is no different. Aim to understand them–how they want to be seen at work, what their objectives are–and then brainstorm (or ask) how you can help make those happen. Also, pay attention to their habits and preferences and act accordingly. For example, if their preferred method of communication is email, don’t hit them with texts or IMs.

Strive for an honest and open relationship

Getting and giving honest feedback is hard. Sometimes we don’t want to hear the truth. And on the other end of the spectrum, when the person we’re talking to has the power to fire us and do away with our bonus, sometimes we don’t want to tell the truth.

The best way to start a transparent relationship with your boss is to first show that you’re comfortable with honest feedback. When you hear guidance, don’t critique the criticism or react emotionally. And when you hear bland praise, don’t accept it–demand criticism. Try saying something like, “I’m worried you’re so concerned about my feelings that you’re hesitant to give me the feedback I need to improve.”

Once he or she is comfortable being frank with you, test the waters on giving them feedback. The way to do it is to ask permission with something like, “Would it be helpful if I told you what I thought of this?” If they say yes, start with something small and continue if they react well and reward the candor.

Be upfront about your skills and goals

Part of managing up is helping your supervisor better understand how to manage you, which means letting them get to know you better. So tell them what you’re good at, what you’re interested in, and what you’re working towards. This will make it easier for them to choose projects for you and keep an eye out for opportunities that might be a good fit. This is a win-win-win situation: you get to work on something you enjoy, your boss gets a happy employee doing great work, and the company improves through your work.

In the end, bad and mediocre managers usually don’t want to be that way–they just need a little help understanding their employees and getting comfortable enough to tell you exactly what they need. By managing up, you can align your goals with your boss’s needs, continually learn through candid feedback, and have a great relationship with your boss.

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