Your boss is one of your most important pathways to career growth and success. Managing your boss comes down to helping them align with you on goals. Perhaps you want to eventually take on a new type of responsibility, which differs from your current role; this is the time to strategically manage your manager.
And whether your boss is a strict ruler or a shining example of leadership, it is up to you to express what you need from them by establishing this strong connection. The first step is learning to understand each other based off a solid foundation of trust. To find success at your workplace, here are a few steps you can take to improve a relationship with your manager and ensure you are both on the same page.
Establish a firm foundation
To start off on the right foot with your boss, make an effort to build up trust. From there set high-quality (but reachable) expectations for each other, and work hard toward your own respective goals. Moreover, as an employee, be confident. Too often, people view themselves as somehow less-than in importance compared to their leaders. Demonstrating security in your own value will take you far. Remind yourself that your work has dignity. So no matter what project or task you engage in, know without you, your boss would not be able to do it.
Once you have this mindset established, then you can show your boss your worth, by hitting all their goals and show you are a dependable employee. Follow-through is one of the best ways to improve a relationship with and make a positive impression on your boss. Do all of this while remaining open and honest with them.
In addition, remind yourself we’re all just humans. No matter how prestigious your boss’s role, they put on one sock at a time, just like you. Instead of a less-than mentality, take a one-across view in which you know you matter and have as much value as your boss.
Think like your boss
Meeting your own needs will be accomplished best when you can meet the needs of your boss. Understand your boss’s wins—the things they are trying to achieve. For example, if your boss wants to keep customers happy, you’ll want to prioritize that as well. Or if your manager values harmony among team members, do your part to be a great team player.
Also consider the challenges your boss is facing. They may be under a lot of pressure, so your demonstration of empathy and willingness to make an impact will be important to the relationship. In addition, be sure you are clear about your leader’s expectations of you. Make it your priority to understand what their needs are and what responsibilities you may need to fulfill. This should be something you talk about regularly—not once a year in your performance review.
Another way to manage your boss is to ensure you have their back and can jump in, without reservations, when they need support. But don’t show up in a manipulative or inauthentic way, but rather have a basic respect for your manager as a fellow human, and demonstrate that consideration when interacting with others.
Also, keep your boss in the loop, so there are no surprises. If you run into a challenge with a customer or another department, let your boss know, so they aren’t hit unaware. If you’ve been pulled into a project, be sure your leader knows about it. If you’ve accomplished something especially exciting, give your manager visibility to your success.
Voice your needs
In support of your success, ensure you tell your boss about your goals and career aspirations. Ask for input, feedback and help in accomplishing your goals.
It’s natural to run into things that are difficult or frustrating. In these cases, be discerning about what you take to your boss. Resist the urge to complain and be sure you’re sharing information about the business and your shared goals, rather than just about a personal annoyance. You’ll want to let your leader know if you’re struggling and need help. But avoid being grumpy about small things. Moreover, think about how your boss leaves interactions with you—do they feel positively? You don’t have to be all sunshine and lollipops, but if you can be constructive and future-focused, your relationship is more likely to thrive.
Another way to show your boss what you need, and what they can eventually do to help, is by successfully taking initiative. Volunteer for projects on which your leader needs resources. This will help you with your leader and give you positive visibility among others. Set up regular meetings with your boss. These may be monthly or even weekly, depending on the nature of your work and your interaction. Moreover, take initiative to stay in touch. Proximity is one of the most important determinants of relationships. When you meet, be ready with your list of topics and be efficient in the way you use your time together.
Your relationship with your current leader can make or break access to your next career opportunity. Build your relationship so you both understand each other and can lead one another to success.
Tracy Brower, PhD, MM, MCRw, is a sociologist focused on work, workers, and workplace, working for Steelcase. She is the author of Bring Work to Life by Bringing Life to Work: A Guide for Leaders and Organizations.