Have you ever heard “my boss just doesn’t understand me”, or “why does my boss think their way is the only way, rather than focussing on the results I can achieve”? One of my previous boss’ perceptions of my management style was summed up in his description “you’re too protective of your team and have too much fun”. It took me a little while, but in the end I was able to work out a way of helping him understand my unique style and the results I can obtain, as well as explaining the benefits of this approach as part of his overall team structure.
As a boss, I would have found it useful to be a mind-reader. But unfortunately, I still haven’t quite perfected that skill yet! As a boss, you can encourage an open dialogue, explain your expectations and preferences, and adapt your style to your team’s needs. But our bosses might not always be willing or able to do that, and therefore it becomes our responsibility to build the best working relationship and environment to thrive in.
Therefore, it’s important to practice managing upwards appropriately and ensure a two-way communication style that builds the right environment. Here are a few tips to help achieve that result:
Early in your working relationship:
- Make the first move: take responsibility for the relationship and, if your boss doesn’t come to you, then it’s up to you to establish regular contact.
- Take responsibility for the relationship: look for ways to smooth the relationship eg. if your boss doesn’t like voicemail, don’t use it; if they want detail, provide it.
- Understand their style: adapt to their style, rather than trying to change them. Take the time to understand how any differences between you have the potential to lead to misunderstandings and problems, and work out how they could be effectively handled.
- Address difficulties: rather than running the risk that your boss could interpret your style differences as disrespect or incompetence, talk to your boss and establish a way of communicating your preferences to help them understand you better.
- Clarify expectations: How do they define success, what are their priorities, what do they care about and what goals are important to them? Understand and negotiate timelines and performance measurements.
- Communication style: how does your boss like to communicate and be communicated to – emails or verbal, summary or details, structured or informal meetings?
- Decision making: What kinds of decisions does your boss want to be involved in, and what do they want you to handle?
During day-to-day working relationship:
- Provide objective facts: present information professionally and without emotions, openly discussing what works well, the challenges and what your team is doing about them.
- Solutions-based: Have plans of action for any problems (with alternatives, facts and consequences).
- Avoid surprises: Report emerging problems early, even if you are resolving the issue – you don’t want someone else telling them before you do.
- Admit mistakes: Own up to mistakes quickly and agree on resolution and action.
- Be specific about requirements: Whether discussing resources, costs, assistance etc, explain why it is required and the consequences if not provided.
- Complete actions: meet the commitment and deadline you have agreed to.
- Don’t brown-nose: You’ll lose respect of your team and your peers, and your boss will see through you.
- Establish credibility: ensure your boss has no reason to question your integrity, by avoiding exaggerating or embellishing facts.
- Time management: Be prepared, arrive and end meetings on time, and use your boss’ time effectively.
- See the team in action: if possible, give your boss every opportunity to see the team in action so they can appreciate the challenges and opportunities firsthand.
Team members would ideally like their boss to understand what motivates them, know why they come to work, their learn style, what challenges they enjoy or need support with. They want their boss to delegate effectively and trust them to do the job well. However, that often includes an assumption that their boss should know and understand them, and so doesn’t always work out that easily.
By building your confidence and self-awareness, you can effectively management upwards, get the best from your working relationships and, as their boss, understand and appreciate your team members.