In my work, I do a fair amount of executive coaching for senior leaders in the Asia-Pacific region. One of the first questions I like to ask is “how is your relationship with your boss?” Many people I work with aren’t sure whether to laugh or cry when they hear this question! Typically I hear things like this:
• My boss…never has time for me and seldom really listens to my perspective.
• Um…my boss, just tells me what to do, expects miracles and has a low tolerance for mistakes. I don’t trust him very much.
• The boss…is always right, and the Emperor of course is fully clothed at all times. If I bring him the truth, he shoots the messenger. Why bother?
• My boss…cares nothing for me as a person. I’m just a donkey to do his dirty work.
• The less I interact with my boss the happier I am.
Oh my. And these are people who have engaged my services to help build a better career, achieve their dreams and so on. So, most often, we start by developing their “Managing Up” muscles. Because, in truth, no matter how bad you think your boss is, they are all human, have their weaknesses and blind spots and it IS possible to build a better working relationship with most of them. If not, well, we can always “vote with our feet” as many people do. In fact more than 80% of people leaving organizations cite “my boss” as the main reason for leaving. Bosses…take heed!
So here are my “11 Secrets” of Managing Up. It’s a two-way street so please take a moment to consider what YOU can do to influence your relationship with the boss.
1. Supervisors are Human Beings. Yes, it’s true. They are very human and they have all the strengths and weaknesses that you do. They have emotions, stress, responsibilities, families, worries, concerns and so on. They get busy, make mistakes, don’t always see clearly, aren’t always skillful in everything and do always see things the way others do. Welcome to Earth! So, always treat them to your best understanding, give them the benefit of the doubt, forgive them when needed and support them in any way you can. Helping your supervisor be successful is one of the most effective strategies for Managing Up. Start by “humanizing” your boss and seeing them as a worthwhile partner. Isn’t that what you want them to do for you?
2. Personal Contracting. All relationships are managed in a framework of personal agreements. When people are in a reporting relationship, maintaining trust is all about having clear agreements and expectations and holding each other accountable for keeping the agreements. Approach your supervisor directly and request to schedule a one-hour “personal contracting” session. Each party then writes down on paper “what they want and don’t want” from the other person in this reporting relationship. Then, exchange papers and negotiate anything that needs to be refined, check for understanding, etc. Afterwards, type up the contract, send it to your supervisor and keep a copy on file. Your personal contract is a “living document” that can be updated whenever needed. This single step has transformed many, many relationships.
3. Being Accountable. We are all accountable to each other for keeping the agreements (promises) we make. Full stop, no exceptions. To be clear: accountability is understood as a two-way street. When there is a breakdown in keeping an agreement, trust is damaged, questions of sincerity arise. So it is very important that in such situations all parties are free to voice their concerns directly and respectfully with those involved. Without this assumption of accountability, trust is threatened and it is difficult to avoid misunderstandings and conflict. So: hold yourself accountable for your promises and let others know when you feel a promise has not been kept. Credibility is always earned, and that includes the boss…they do not get a free pass just because they are more senior.
4. Employee’s Bill of Rights. From my supervisor I have a right to expect:
• Respect and dignity in each interaction
• Timely feedback, guidance, access
• Clear performance goals, updated whenever appropriate
• Coaching and mentoring in support of my performance goals
• Acknowledgement of a job well done; specific feedback when improvement is needed
• Trust in my ability to perform and take on large responsibilities
• Willingness to listen to my concerns and perspectives
• Clear time frames and scope of work when delegating