Your manager matters. You interact with this person most days, and the nature of the relationship can have a massive effect on your mood.
But beyond that, “in a business of any size, you really can’t go anywhere or get much done without your boss’s support,” says Victor Lipman, a longtime manager and author of the new book The Type B Manager: Leading Successfully in a Type A World. Your boss likely controls your compensation and evaluation. “It’s in your interest, and your boss’s interest, to have a good, constructive working relationship,” he says.
Unfortunately, that doesn’t come guaranteed. Managers are human and have their own quirks and foibles. They may have been promoted because they were good at what they did, but managing is an entirely different skill. The good news, though, is that over time you can likely turn the boss you have into the kind of the boss you want. Here’s how.
“Some people are happy in their current roles, and have no desire to ever advance from where they are,” says Lipman. “What they want most of all is a smooth, non-stressful working relationship on a day-to-day basis.” If that’s the case, then solving particular irritants is more important than getting feedback or more visibility. If you’re upwardly mobile, on the other hand, you need a boss who’s an advocate.
To create the leverage to change a relationship, “the best thing you can possibly do is make yourself indispensable,” says Lipman. But it’s not just about coming in early, which can actually be annoying if your boss was hoping to get quiet, solo time in the office.
Instead, try to see the business through your boss’s eyes, and figure out “what issues he or she is wrestling with, that are keeping him or her up at night. Help him or her try to solve them,” says Lipman.
“Open and candid communication is key to any relationship,” says Lipman. “If there are things that are really disturbing you, it’s fair game to bring them up, so long as you bring them up in a respectful manner.”
As in any relationship, you can’t expect the other party to read your mind. A boss without kids may not understand the reality of childcare schedules; you can inform her you’re happy to take a 5:30 meeting, but you need advance notice to make alternate arrangements. Likewise, she can’t know that your Thursday night volunteer gig is one of the most important things in your life if you don’t tell her, and that a request to stay late Thursday is painful, but other days are fine.
People mirror how others behave. If you’ve got a boss who is easily agitated, you can, “through your own relative calmness, which can be contagious, take things down a notch,” says Lipman. If you’d prefer a warm, fuzzy office environment, and your boss is not naturally that kind of person, you can take some of this on yourself, freely offering praise to your colleagues, or bringing in treats for holidays. Over time, this will nudge her in that direction, too.
Millennials have a reputation for wanting more feedback, but the reality is that everyone wants to know how things are going. Younger workers are just more vocal about demanding it. If you have big ambitions and want to improve, “structurally, make sure you get that feedback,” says Lipman.
“Say, ‘I’d really like to have status meetings with you more frequently.’” Different managers have different styles, but it’s not unrealistic to get a half-hour every week or two to catch up, get a sense of how you’re doing, and how you can help your boss.
No one likes being micromanaged. “Most micromanagement is based on anxiety,” says Lipman. So check in proactively, telling your boss far more frequently than you think is necessary that “Things are on track. The situation is under control.” Uncertainty is what managers are afraid of.
Some relationships just aren’t going to work out. In that case, you can turn the boss you have into the boss you want by getting a new boss. It’s a big world and “there’s no point being unhappy over the long term,” says Lipman.
Look around your own company and others, but in the course of your search, be sure to treat your current situation as a learning experience. “If areas are your particular pain points now, there’s no reason not to probe a bit,” he says. Sometimes the best thing a bad boss can do for you is help you figure out what to avoid in the future.