Career Lens: Managing Your Boss
Most times when the phrase “Managing Your Boss” is used, it sounds more political than what it aims to convey. In this context, I do not mean political maneuvering or apple polishing. Rather, I am using this term to mean the process of consciously and deliberately working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the company.
Your boss is a big part of your career journey. Not being able to relate with them or feel their pulse, is doing a great disservice to thyself. After God, the greatest person in your career line is your boss. I know that will raise some eyebrows but it is what it is. If your boss says you are good, you are good. If you s/he think otherwise, that is the verdict.
Supervision is a special and important part of management. As a young employee, you cannot be left to your own ideas without formal control and direction. Supervision ensures that the young new employee is adhering to the highest ethical standards, using up-to-date, evidence-based procedures to execute. Your boss provides supervision. Supervision comes with experience and some level of responsibility and accountability.
The workplace cannot operate a leaderless organogram. As such, there is always a leader of the pack whose job is to direct the organization to achieve its set goal. The leader will have another set of leaders that report to him/her. With that, as a new employee, you will have a boss/supervisor, since you will be working in a business unit.
The mandate that your boss needs to deliver comes from his/her boss. So your deliverables will have to enable your boss to deliver his/her boss’ deliverables. That ends up being the organization’s deliverables to its customers. on its objectives. Assuming you are in the legal department, with a legal background. Your job is to track the compliance level of your company with some important legislation. That is fine and is well-defined. Then someday your boss comes up to you and requests that you follow him/her to a product launch.
From your own corner of the earth, you cannot link product launch to legal compliance. Actually, it might not be related, but there is a reason your boss has tipped you to go with him/her. It could be that your boss wants you to see how corporate events are conducted. It could be for exposure to meet with both regulators and members of senior management. It could be that s/he has a role in the event and may just need help. It may be that s/he might need someone to bounce off ideas as the event progress. It might be that the CEO has called him/her to the event without any formal role and s/he is anticipating work that might be undefined and ambiguous.
I am deliberately painting these scenarios to make you see what your boss might be facing and might need an additional resource to tackle. Yes, being in that event is not in your task and target but assisting your boss to solve his/her problem, whether real or anticipated, is your job.
The moral of the story, not everything can be explained. Your job is to solve your boss’ problems.
Whatsoever your boss wants you to do, it is trickled down. He is not generating a task for task generation’s sake. Most times, s/he has been given the mandate to deliver. Your job is to help him/ her. This is the point I am driving at. The easiest way to manage your boss is to assist him to deliver his deliverables.
Recall I said that you were employed to solve a problem in the organization. That problem you were employed to solve is the problem that your boss defines. In other words, your boss defines what a problem is and you take it from there and proffer a solution.
That means, if your boss instructs you to move boxes from point A to B, then that is the problem to be solved for that day. I know, as a neurosurgeon, moving boxes is beneath your skill set. I agree. You agree. Your boss agrees. However, in order to access the operating room today, there are these boxes blocking the pathway and also the entrance of the emergency building. The boss has instructed you to move the boxes.
As banal and trivial as this might sound, that is the problem for the day. It is your job to decide how you are going to solve it. Are you going to do it alone? Will you outsource and supervise? Will you get other colleagues to assist? In whatsoever way or form you intend to solve the problem is up to you. All your boss wants, is to have access to the operating room.
I have shared these two sets of examples to demonstrate that your job is to solve your leader’s problem. Those problems differ on a daily basis. That does not mean that the workplace is haphazard. It only demonstrates that the workplace is dynamic, a living organism, and the problems to solve spring from different directions.
Below are likely ways to manage your boss. The list is not exhaustive. I listed salient, pertinent, and important points that serve as foundations for the other strategies that you will evolve by yourself. Let’s go…
1. Your Boss Is Not Irrational
At times we are tempted to think the opposite. However, know that your boss is very rational. Yes, s/he might be under pressure to deliver and hence chaos ensues. Unfortunately for some bosses, this is a normal occurrence. These are the exceptions that this article is not handling😂 When your boss requires a big task that looks impossible to be delivered under budget and within a tight schedule; try and engage. The more you engage, the more clarity appears in the scene. With understanding and clarity, you might be able to feel his/her pulse and go to war. If you always keep it at the back of your head that your boss is not irrational, it will enable you to engage more often in order to understand their point of view. “Do remember that your manager has their own fears, concerns, and frustrations. Don’t look at your boss as just the person who evaluates your work or who gives out raises and promotions. Look at them as a full person, with a life outside of work, career aspirations, and the wish or hope to be the best manager they can be.”
2. Bosses Have Both Expectations and Preferences.
Yes, your boss expects you to deliver 100% of the time. They want you to catch the vision immediately and run with it. Yes, assume you have been delivering excellently but there seems to be some unsaid tension between both of you. From my experience, there might be issues of preferences not being managed. What you think is best delivered in PowerPoint might put your boss off, if his preferred way of delivery is via Excel. It sounds like a small thing but you might be inadvertently peeving on your boss.
I recall a time at work when I usually go for late lunch (which was perfectly legit). I noticed that my boss was not always happy with me in the afternoon. One day I engaged and she told me that a number of meetings that she would have loved to delegate to me could not be done because I was always not around on time during the afternoons. Then I explained to her why I go for late lunch and went ahead to tell her I can make room and take the meetings. I preferred late lunch because it gave me time to see the family since I worked long hours. She preferred afternoon meetings because she loved using the morning hours for concentrated work. We switched things around and resolved a problem of preference that was coming in between us. Watch out for how your boss prefers how some things should be done. Find a way to adapt. Preferences are mostly unsaid.
3. Build On Strengths
Your boss has some strengths that management noticed and placed him/her to manage the department. S/he did not just get the role. Even if you think, the person got it through political means, there are reasons that a specific person was chosen. Your boss may have an analytical mind but lacks empathy. Learn empathy from somewhere else while you glean from his / her wealth of experience in analytics. Your boss is human and would most definitely have some very strong soft and technical skills. Learn from them.
4. Be Solution Oriented
Find ways to come up with creative solutions rather than complaints. When there are issues at hand, do not just join the choir of complainants but try to come up with solutions. There is no boss that hates a solution provider. Do figure out what is most important to your boss this year. What are his or her performance goals? The more you can support your boss in achieving their objectives, the better your relationship will be.
5. Study Your Boss
Your boss is most likely not going to be a member of your generation. S/he is from another generation that has another mindset of how work needs to be delivered. In as much as you need your boss to understand you, you also need to understand your boss. Seek to understand and not always to be understood. Imagine a man that started his career on a typewriter and finding it hard to adapt to computers and then you start telling him about managing work from Slack. You already know the reaction you will get. On top of that, you lace your suggestion with remote work. You are most likely going to get a “no” as an answer. It does not mean that your boss is mean, but s/he just cannot understand your mode of delivery and why work should be conducted that way.
When you study your boss, then you are able to know what are his/her likes, dislikes, and idiosyncrasies. Well, believe it or not, the same way you studied that Greek goddess that you said sweet nothings to, is the same way you should study your boss. QED.
In the month of November 2022, I and a few fellas would be handling career sessions and sharing what we know, have seen, and have lived out. The aim will be to give you a headstart or enable thee to course correct, if necessary.
Topics would include extensive conversations on :
§ Starting Your Career
§ Stages of Career
§ Career boosters
§ The changing face of work
§ Soft Skills
§ Technical Mastery
§ Managing Up & Down — Bosses, Peers & Subordinates
§ Office Politics & Me
§ The Knowledge Economy
§ Career Blindspot
§ Remote Work, Flexiwork & Me
§ Transiting to Entrepreneurship
I will be holding a weekly seminar on the topic — “Managing Your Career In The Digital & Knowledge Economy”. Would you want to be a part of it?