How To Manage Your Boss – Lead Them, Rather Than The Other Way Round

A study on why people leave their jobs in order to work for another company came up with an interesting observation:

More than two thirds of people leave, not because of better prospects or more pay, but because of their poor relationship with their immediate supervisor or manager.

This allows us to ask a question that might address this issue of poor relationships with the people we work for, namely

How can we get the best out of our boss and give ourselves the best opportunities to keep the communications loops wide open between us?”

Our take on this is to lead your manager proactively, rather than being in the reactive mode of letting them manage us.

This will lead to effective and efficient project management, based on clear and specific goals that will create better results than if we just depended on our manager for guidance all the time.

Here are some tips to ensure you have the best chance of getting those results:

Make a contract with your manager: Find out what an excellent job looks like, and who will be involved in measuring that performance.

Make sure you’re clear on your manager’s expectations: What seems really exquisite work to you may only appear average to them You could ask, “Can we be clear on what standard you are looking for on this project?” Or, “If this went exactly like you wanted it to go and it turned out perfect, what would have to happen between now and that time?” Be aware of all aspects of what the manager wants in the project; sometimes managers don’t tell you everything, and you have to dig deep to get the the details you require.

Be assertive in asking questions that give you clarity of expectations, and don’t assume anything you’re not clear about.

Be clear on what would make your manager happy regarding quality, follow-up and timing: Your manager may have lots of other things on their mind and might forget to tell you such things as a firm deadline or a required step.

And since everyone operates from their own set of realities, the possibility of miscommunication is high. That’s why you need to take the initiative to set expectations for every project your boss assigns you.

You need to find out: “What is the deadline? What are my resources? What checkpoints or milestones do we want to establish, if any? What step or contact person is absolutely critical to this project?”

Just as you set expectations when dealing with clients and co-workers, you need to manage the relationship and set expectations with your boss every time.  

Know what your manager’s style is and adapt to that style: Some managers want the whole story, bit by bit, in detail and with commas and full-stops in the right place.

Others just want the big picture, like an executive summary, just to convince them that you’re on the right track. Others want a mixture of both.

Be aware of how your manager wants you to communicate with them. It will be worth your time invested in this important area.

Practice emotional intelligence with your manager when it comes to conflicting interests: A person high in EQ will assess the situation with their manager and identify ways they can communicate effectively to resolve conflict.

One of the best ways to do this is to accept responsibility for the communication. Use “I” rather than “You” to clarify meaning. For instance “I am not clear on this aspect” rather than “You need to explain that clearer”. By taking personal responsibility for any misunderstandings, you clarify in your own mind what standards are being expected, and create better long-term relationships with your manager  

If other managers are involved in the project, be aware of their interests and styles:

Keeping up with the expectations and styles of many managers involved in the project may be tricky. Keep in mind the one thing that matters most to each of the stakeholders you have to please. Either ask each person what is most important to them, or work out what you have observed in each person’s behavior that you can work with.

This way, you keep the communication lines open and allow each manager to see things from your perspective.

Lead them, rather than the other way round: You can reassess the relationship with your manager on each new project you work on. If you are able to lead them and show them how to get the best out of you, and if you are able to build great communication skills with them and help them lead you better, it results in a fine working relationship that enhances every aspect of the projects you work on together

Thanks again,


Sean McPheat

Managing Director

MTD Training   

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Updated on: 4 May, 2010

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