Use these tips to manage up at work will help you win over your boss.
Emma, an ambitious mid-level sales manager in a technical industry, has had a number of different bosses over the years. Some have been good, some not. Her current boss is new and has no clue what he’s doing. Both of them are struggling. Maintaining an effective, productive working relationship with your boss is vital for your career. But it isn’t always easy.
Maybe you have a bad boss — the manager that publicly belittles staff, has explosive outbursts, or even accepts credit for others’ successes. Or a boss who is just overwhelmed, overworked, or incompetent—basically just trying to keep their head above water.
We spend most of our waking hours at work, and if your relationship with your boss is a difficult one, it makes all those hours arduous.
I’ve been a person who, at different points in my life, hated my job and my boss, and at other times loved my job and my boss. I know that there’s a big difference. When you hate your job and your boss, it has a chilling effect on your entire life. When you love your job and your boss, it has a ripple effect on everyone around you. Your whole life lights up.
Some people approach the difficult situation by gritting their teeth and toughing it out, but it’s hard to do good work under those circumstances. Others engage in manipulation and games, but that turns out badly more often than not, and it takes an ethical toll.
Being the best we can be at work is largely a matter of successfully managing our relationships – including our relationship with the boss. It’s up to you to grab the reins and manage up at work.
Here are some smart nonmanipulative ways to effectively manage not only your boss but those you lead:
1. Understand your manager’s style One key way to manage up at work is to get to know your boss. What is their work style? Observe things like:
- Are they overbearing or more relaxed?
- Do they enjoy collaborating or micromanaging?
- Are they impulsive or more thoughtful when making decisions?
Ask your boss questions like:
- Do they prefer to communicate via email, phone, or in-person?
- Are they mainly data-driven, or do they also rely on intuition? What is important to them about data or intuition?
- How often do they want updates—daily, weekly, or on an as-needed basis?
- What are the best times to engage with your boss? How can you get your questions answered while respecting their time? One suggestion is to discuss scheduling a weekly one on one and address your issues then. Lead the discussion, document action items, and follow up accordingly.
Once you understand how your manager operates, you can adapt to your boss’s communication and decision-making style and they will appreciate your proactiveness.
2. Make your boss look good. No one has ever made themselves great by putting someone else down. Especially if your boss is doing badly, do what you can to help shore things up. When you make them look good, you invest in a critical relationship and make yourself look even better in the process.
Help your boss avoid unwanted surprises. If you know that bad news is coming, alert your boss as soon as possible. The worst possible scenario is that your manager is the last to know and ends up looking bad. Take the initiative so that they are prepared and don’t get blindsided.
Try and understand your manager’s goals and objectives. If you aren’t clear on what they are, don’t wait for your boss to take the lead. Set up a one-on-one meeting to get crystal clear on expectations. Once you understand those priorities, you can tailor the information you share during meetings. If you can assist your manager with accomplishing critical tasks, you will demonstrate that you are dependable and decisive, two fundamental traits that managers look for in their employees.
Go above and beyond the projects assigned to you so that you can augment your manager’s work. Doing what you can to make your manager’s job easier and make them look good will not only help them do their job, but you will be considered a valuable asset to your manager and to your organization.
3. Stay calm even when everything around you is in a state of chaos. When everything is falling apart and breaking down, the last thing you want to do is lose your cool. It is easy to be great when things are calm but if you truly want to stand out, the smart thing is to learn to be calm in the chaos. Do not become part of the drama. When everybody else is losing their temper or showing their irritation, the smartest thing to do is to keep your reaction level-headed and reasonable. Your boss will notice.
4. Be a consistently positive force. Discipline yourself to seek the positive in every situation. Think, speak, and act with positivity. When everyone else is complaining about an unreasonable restriction, find the work-around. It makes you a valuable team member and sets you apart.
5. Set up healthy boundaries. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that your boss wants 100 percent of your every waking moment, but setting up reasonable boundaries shows that you’re smart, you know how to take care of yourself, and you’re willing to be assertive. Don’t justify, rationalize, or apologize – just set your boundaries calmly, firmly and respectfully.
In short, treat your relationship with your boss as you would any other important relationship in your life. Invest time, energy, and creativity into making them happy, show your best self as much as possible, and create the habits in yourself that cultivate trust.