The Ultimate Guide To Managing Your Boss
> Relationships take two to work and it’s no different when it comes to your manager
You stare at your boss in disbelief, trying to make sure your expression doesn’t portray what you’re really thinking.
It’s one of those situations where you follow your manager’s orders exactly - only for them to change. And it’s not just that they changed. They somehow expected you to know that they’ve changed, without them telling you.
So now either a report is late, a project misses a milestone or an all nighter is inevitable - and it could have been avoided.
All you needed was clear direction from your manager and the support to do your job properly.
Instead, you feel like you’ve been caught like a deer in headlights, all because the very person who is supposed to have their shit together doesn’t.
And the worst part is, you can’t say anything!
Who are you going to report them to?
You’re all for giving someone a piece of your mind if they’ve messed up - but not when that person is basically in control of your career and employment.
Don’t bite the hand that feeds you, right?
It’s times like this that make you realize that your last manager wasn’t really that bad after all - that one was a totally different scenario.
With your previous manager, it was all about catch up meetings and emails asking about the status of this and that, you barely had any time to actually do the work you were reporting on.
And when you did finally finish any project, instead of looking forward to feedback and maybe even a pat on the back, you always had to brace yourself and smile while your boss told you why everything was wrong and how it should be done instead.
Oh how you’d longed for the day when you could throw the laptop at Sandra and scream “Well, why don’t you do it yourself then?!”
But at least Sandra was interested in the work. At least she knew what needed to be done, even if she only wanted it done exactly the way she would do it.
The manager you have now barely knows his ass from his elbow or where he is or who he is half the time.
He’s constantly giving conflicting orders and going back on what he said.
He’s constantly frazzled and seems like an expert at transferring all of his nervous energy to you.
Basically, he’s a hot mess.
But since he’s your manager, that makes you seem like a hot mess too.
So what’s worse? The incessant micro-manager or the clueless stress head?
The good news is that neither has to mean unhappiness and stress at work.
No matter what management style your boss has - whether good or bad - it’s also important that you manage them. And it’s not as hard as it sounds, we promise.
Isn’t It My Manager’s Job To Manage?
The idea of managing upwards may sound counterintuitive and difficult but it’s actually very simple.
Managing your boss isn’t about actually managing them as a person. You’re not trying to turn them into your puppet through clever manipulation and Jedi mind tricks.
But...how fucking awesome would that be?! Big pay raise anyone?
However, that isn’t what this is about.
What you’re really trying to do is manage your relationship with your boss. For both of you to succeed, you need to have a good working relationship which leads to good work output.
And for any relationship to work, it requires a bit of effort from both parties. When it comes to people in positions of authority, we tend to think that we should just let them take the lead on the relationship as we begrudgingly follow.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, nor should it be.
If you want to have a productive, mutually beneficial relationship with that figure of authority, you’ve got to be intentional about it.
We know what you’re thinking. It’s hard enough trying to manage your relationships with your parents, your kids, your friends and your S.O. - why would you want to add another to the list, right?
Well, we’ve got some pretty compelling reasons as to why managing your relationship with your boss isn’t just important - it’s a must!
1) They Control Your Future
Okay, we’re being dramatic here but your boss does play a key role in your career progression. They are the first port of call for when you’re ready to go for promotion. And if you have them in your corner, they’ll back you to get it.
When they’re on your side, they can make things happen for you - both on the work productivity and progress side and career development side.
However, if your relationship is rocky, it could block you from getting ahead, thus keeping you stagnant.
2) You’ll Learn More
In a good direct report relationship, a kind of mentor-mentee bond is formed. If you get along well with your boss, they’ll probably open up to you more, involve you more and will take you under their wing.
With this kind of relationship, you’re sure to learn more about your role, your department and what it means to be a good manager. It’s an excellent opportunity for you to develop your own skills and understanding.
You can learn about his or her management styles and see what works well and what doesn’t. So, when you get promoted to that level, you’ll know what to do and what not to do - all within the context of your unique working style and how it fits within the company culture.
3) Less Stress
Our ultimate goal here is to help you feel less stressed at work.
Having a difficult boss - or a difficult relationship with your boss - is one of the leading causes of stress at work and one of the major reasons why most people feel like quitting. Pushing the ejector button is the easy solution.
For others, it’s to minimize contact as much as possible and just get the job done - no more, no less. It’s working just hard enough not to get fired.
Some people just resign themselves to the fact that bosses suck and live out the rest of their days in misery.
We put to you an alternative option. Manage upwards! Take control of the relationship you have with your manager to make it less stressful and more enjoyable for the both of you.
4) Work Will Be More Fun
Have you ever seen those people in the office who seem to be best buddies with their line manager? Ugh, so annoying, right? But don’t they look like they’re having so much more fun at work than you?
It’s time to dump the idea that your boss can’t also be your friend. We’re not saying you have to start hanging out with them on the weekends but it is possible to create a really awesome, comfortable and fun relationship with your manager.
5) It’s Good Practice
If you think that the challenges you face with your manager are just for us lowly workers at the bottom, you’re very mistaken.
As you rise up the ranks in any organization, you’ll find the same shit - but it’ll be worse because instead of your middle manager driving you up the wall it’ll be the VP, president or CEO of the whole damn company!
Hell, even the CEO is held accountable and reports upwards as well. They’ve got to deal with the most scrutinizing bunch of people - shareholders and investors. *shudder*
What about being your own boss?
Well, even if you decide to go down the self-employment route, you’ll find that your clients and customers give you the same headaches as your manager once did. And frequently, it’s far worse.
So, getting to grips with managing upwards in your career is great practice for what’s to come.
Now that the “why” is all cleared up, you must be wondering “how” to make this dream a reality.
Spoiler alert: it’s not that hard 😉
How To Manage Your Boss For A Stress-Free Life
Before you even begin to start managing your relationship with your manager, it’s important to get to know them.
Pay attention to what’s going on around you and how they communicate with you. Figure out where they fit in your company’s political landscape and who influences their mood.
Spot patterns in their behavior.
Are they a morning person or very much a night owl?
Do they handle stress by completely shutting down and not sharing relevant information or do they handle it by running around like a chicken with its head cut off and passing the nervous energy on to everyone else?
Do they get nervous when you don’t keep them up to date and go into micro-manager mode, or do they feel annoyed if you rely on them too heavily?
Noticing all of these behaviors and patterns is key to effectively managing your relationship in a way that keeps your manager happy, calm and aware of the value you’re adding to their team.
It’s also a great way to make sure you don’t take things personally - you’ll realize that your boss didn’t snap at you because they think you’re a waste of space but simply because they didn’t have their morning coffee.
The keys are actively observing and communicating. This short 3-minute video clip hits the point on this.
VIDEO: How to manage your boss... in under 5 minutes
> Be 100% clear on what your manager expects of you by asking them
> A good understanding of each other will avoid wasted time and energy
> The responsibility is on you to gain clear information and then deliver results
Once you’ve got a feel for what your manager is like, you can adjust how you interact with them with these simple ideas.
1) Set Boundaries From The Beginning
It can be easy to start a working relationship with a new boss by completely ignoring our own boundaries, limitations and capabilities.
We want to impress them so we make ourselves available at all hours, work overtime to meet unrealistic deadlines and bite our tongues to agree with them when we know they’re wrong.
While these might all seem like good things to do to make a good first impression, what they actually do is create expectations of us that we might not be able to or want to continue to meet.
The best way to avoid this is to set clear boundaries from the beginning by learning when and how to say no at work.
If you want to maintain any semblance of work-life balance, don’t reply to emails at 1am.
We’re not saying you should never be available outside of working hours - of course there are some instances when you will need to be. But making a habit of it means that your boss will expect you to be contactable when perhaps you’d rather not be.
Decide what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to work and set the tone for what your manager should expect of you.
2) Be Clear About Your Goals And Expectations
Some people feel that they shouldn’t come across as too ambitious too soon.
After all, you don’t want your boss to think you’re after their job!
But being clear about your goals and plans for the future is a great way to make sure your manager is on your side and knows how best to support you.
If you’ve never shown an interest in taking on more responsibility or moving up a rung, how will your manager know to give you the opportunity when it comes up?
And worse, they may take your silence as a sign that you don’t want to progress or that you aren’t interested in your role. This assumption would definitely affect how they interact with you and potentially curb your progress.
Be honest and upfront about your ambitions from the start and mention it during your annual reviews or periodic one-n-ones.
3) Give Your Manager Clear Feedback
We know that this tip will give lots of you the chills.
“Tell my boss what I really think of them? Are you fucking kidding me?!”
But what’s the use in complaining about something your manager does or doesn’t do without even giving them the opportunity to rectify it?
As long as it’s delivered in a considerate and level-headed way, your manager will most likely appreciate the feedback and respect you for being able to share it.
The best way to share feedback is in a private, calm setting. So, if your feedback is about your boss’s communication style when she’s under pressure - please for the love of God don’t share it with her during that exact scenario.
Wait until whatever the situation is has past and then share your thoughts.
Explain what it is your manager does or doesn’t do, how it affects you and how they could make it better.
For example “I noticed that when you’re really busy, we don’t get to have our weekly catch ups - which I totally understand but it leaves me feeling a little nervous about missing something. Perhaps we could shorten the meetings from the usual hour to 15 minutes on the days when you’re pressed for time?”
4) Always Present Challenges With Solutions
In a similar spirit to the point above, if you’re ever coming to your line manager with a problem or challenge, make sure you’ve thought of some possible solutions to share with them too.
Don’t just be a complainer. Someone who just moans, whines and bitches about problems will never get anywhere with anyone. Period.
Work through the possible solutions and from different angles. And think about the pros and cons of each one. Then, provide your recommendation and the reasoning behind it.
This will show initiative and leadership potential, and help to build trust between you and your manager.
5) Don’t Be Afraid To Question Them
Sometimes your boss asks you to do something which you know is a complete waste of time or simply doesn’t make sense.
And what do you do?
You say nothing and do it of course!
But this doesn’t help anyone - especially not you, the person who actually has to do the work.
Of course, it’s not helpful to make your boss feel like you think you know better than them or don’t trust their judgment, so you can’t exactly respond with a simple blank stare and a “Why?”
Instead, come back to them with some questions. Approach it from an angle of genuinely trying to understand why they want you to complete this task that seems like a fool’s errand.
If it really is something of no value, hopefully your questions will help them to realize that, and they’ll change their mind about it.
6) Be Accountable
We give our managers a lot of shit - but sometimes we’re the ones who fuck up.
If you have a difficult relationship with your boss, it’s tempting to try and cover your tracks or throw someone else under the bus.
But raising your hand up and taking responsibility for your actions is much better for your long-term relationship.
This is another great way to build trust and it also forms a learning opportunity - a chance for your manager to teach you what you should have done instead.
7) Make Them Look Good
We all have an ego and we all like to have it tended to every so often.
We like people more when they make us look good - and if you’re a manager, you’ll definitely want to keep that person around.
So whenever possible, give your boss a bit of an ego boost. But, don’t be a total kiss-ass about it.
Of course, we all hate it when we do all the work and someone else takes all the credit.
But there are other ways to make your superiors seem like the shizz.
Mention how much you valued their support when you’re speaking about a recent project. Or, how they were able to successfully influence upper management in getting obstacles removed.
Give ‘em props to people in other teams as you build your personal brand within the company.
And of course, the ultimate way to make your boss look good is to do good work yourself. After all, everything you do reflects on them.
8) Take Control Of Your Meetings
Maybe you have a ghost for a manager. You feel like you never get any face time with them and half the time they’re not even in the office.
Or perhaps you have a manager who just won’t leave you alone.
Their favorite phrase seems to be “got a minute?” and you can barely get any work done with the number of times they come over to “see how you’re doing.”
In both of these situations, you can take control.
Set a recurring meeting in both your calendars for whatever frequency you think is best - weekly, bi-weekly, monthly - whatever you think is reasonable.
Send it with a note to let them know that you thought a regularly scheduled time to catch up would be a great way to make sure the both of you are on the same page with all the stuff going on at work.
9) Shout About Your Work
We can’t expect our managers to know everything that we do.
Most likely, they have other direct reports as well and, even if they don’t, they’ve got their own work to keep track of.
It’s our responsibility to make sure our bosses know how awesome we are.
Does your manager give you way too much work because they don’t appreciate just how much you have to do already?
Or maybe they keep checking up on you because they’re not actually sure what you’re doing.
Perhaps you feel that you’re not progressing because your manager doesn’t see all of the awesome work you do.
Whatever the case, it’s time to take matters into your own hands.
At the end of every week, make sure your manager knows what you’ve achieved and what you plan to do the following week.
This could be in the form of a regular email or a face-to-face conversation, if you have regular meetings with them.
You can start this at any time - just let them know you thought it would be useful for them to have visibility over what you’re working on. They’ll appreciate it and they’ll finally see just how much value you add to their team.
10) Hang Out As Humans
One of the best ways to enjoy a good relationship with your manager is for the two of you to spend time together away from the office.
Get out of the manager-employee roles and hang out together as human beings.
By socializing in a more relaxed environment, you’ll learn more about each other, and hopefully end up actually enjoying each other’s company.
Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you go on a romantic date with your boss - that’s a big no-no. Office dating is tricky. Instead, just go out for lunch together every so often. It's a good way to connect.
From Boss To BFF...Maybe?
It happens again.
Your boss gives you completely different instructions to what he said the last time and, annoyingly, you’ve already started work on what he said before.
You take a breath, and start to speak “Umm…”
Before you can continue, he butts in “Oh damn, I did it again didn’t I?”
You nod, he slaps his forehead, you both laugh.
He apologizes and lets you know that the plans changed last week but he was so busy he forgot to keep you in the loop.
You discuss a new timeline to allow for the extra changes, laugh some more and go on your merry way.
Doesn’t this sound like a much more pleasant scene than before?
And all this could be yours, with a little bit of upward management.
By taking action on even a few of the points above, you’ll soon start to see an improvement in your relationship with your manager, which could equal less stress, more productivity and a generally happier working life.
Aside from being our managers, our bosses are human. They don’t want us to hate them and they aren’t purposefully trying to make our lives a living hell. Except when they do and that’s when you have to learn to deal with assholes effectively.
By viewing our relationship with our managers as a two-way street and as something that’s equally our responsibility, we can support them in becoming the best managers possible to us.
This approach to managing your manager is truly a win-win. They get a direct report who is engaged and proactive, and you get a manager who trusts you and supports you.
Sounds like a match made in management heaven to us.