Managing your Manager

Equally as important as the role you have, is the manager to whom you report. Your manager can make or break your career; a good manager can give you the support and exposure you need to attain the recognition you deserve while a bad manager could set you so far back that it could take years to recover. Not only does your manager determine your fate within the company, but they are responsible for setting the tone of the working environment which impacts the culture of the department.   

During the span of my twenty plus year career, I’ve had the full gamut of supervisors ranging from the psycho-bitch from hell to the complicit, half in the bag, deadbeat. Somewhere half way in between is the manager that calls themselves a friend. I have found that these manager types really only impact your day-to-day work environment and I haven’t been able to draw a clear correlation between personality type and an impact on your promotion and pay.

Let me clarify this further.

Life with a difficult manager can make your work environment H-E-L-L. These types of managers unconsciously use fear as a motivator which creates a constant sense of anxiety within the department. Coming into work each day can be stressful, to put it mildly, with Sunday nights being the worst. As the glory of the weekend nears its sunny end, a stormy black cloud rolls in to seize any shred of joy that time away from the office has brought you. Your thoughts are consumed by intense worry. Your mind is now on an infinite loop foreshadowing the week ahead. That’s when nausea sets in.

But I have found that these types of bosses even with their emotional volatility don't necessarily translate into a bad pay day or promotion. In fact, some of the toughest bosses that I’ve ever had have fought the hardest for me and their teams. It’s like a pay-off for the abuse we had to endure. I once had a boss that I used to compare to OJ Simpson because like OJ would beat up Nicole and then buy her a Ferrari, my boss would abuse us all year long and would over-compensate with a huge bonus, i.e. the metaphorical Ferrari.

The worst type of boss from a pay and promotion perspective is the complicit dead beat. This type of boss has little to no interest in what you do nor do they care. Often times they are based in a different location than you and are usually preoccupied with their own career advancement. Managers such as these don’t usually have much impact on the day-to-day culture of your group but they also don’t do much to advance your career either. These managers are poor with managing people and require greater management by their subordinates.

And finally, there is the manager that develops a friendly relationship with their teams and talks to you more like your girlfriend or locker room buddy. It’s generally inappropriate and somewhat ineffective in harnessing the greatest potential and productivity. Teams become lackadaisical in too casual of an atmosphere and it’s hard for these managers to tighten the reins once they’ve created such a relaxed tone. Employees with whom I’ve spoken claim that they work harder for a manager they like because they want them to look good, but human nature doesn’t really work that way – we are much more motivated by pressure. Managers such as these also tend to be a bit needy and want their teams to like them. They generally don’t like to give tough feedback because they don’t want to upset anyone. 

The spectrum of personality types is much broader than the three that I discuss here and maybe your boss is a combination of these or has various other traits. It doesn’t matter whether your boss fits into one of these three buckets perfectly, but what is important is that you do understand your boss’s personality and what is important to them. Always try to understand what motivates them and drives their behaviors and actions. Then you could focus on what matters to them. Ultimately this will help you manage your manager.  

How to manage your manager?

  • Market yourself to your manager – Make sure that your manager is aware of what you do. If you’re the one responsible for the success of a project or profitability of the team, make sure your manager knows that. Arm your manager with the information they will need to get you the credit you rightfully deserve which at the end of the day should translate into monetary compensation.
  • Hold your manager accountable – Make sure that you have regularly scheduled meetings with your manager so they are aware of the work that you are doing. Make them give you a performance review and make sure that it accurately reflects the contribution that you are making to the department and the firm as a whole. Be precise with the language in the review and if your boss is vague, make them include specific examples that accurately reflect your performance.
  • Communicate your expectations – This includes raises and bonuses. Let your manager know what you are expecting to be paid and ask them if they agree with your ballpark figure. They can’t tell you specifics but you can get a sense if they think you are delusional. At the end of the day they will be the ones fighting on your behalf so their buy-in is critical. 

What makes a good manager?

1.       A good manager defends their team and takes responsibility when their team screws up.

2.       A good manager lets their team present their work and gives them credit.

3.       A good manager fosters a healthy environment and creates a culture where colleagues display respect for one another; bullying and harassment aren't tolerated.

4.       A good manager encourages dialogue and open communications.

5.       A good manager fights to get you the pay and promotion that you deserve and assists with mobility and puts you on a path of an upward trajectory.

When you become a manager here is one thing to think about: behaviors are learned and learned behaviors form habits. If you've had a manager that behaved badly and you have a low sense of self-awareness, it is likely that you will acquire some of these bad habits. Be mindful of that and learn what you can that is of value from your manager and let their poor qualities guide you to become a better boss than they have been.  One day your subordinates will not only repay you with loyalty, but they may also one day thank you.