How to Manage the Boss

Most people think of managing someone at work as a one-way street. They think of their boss managing them and forget that bosses need to be managed as well.

Leaders need to be managed by their people because sometimes they over- or under-manage them. For example, they over-manage by under-delegating, micromanaging and continually checking on a project’s status and progress. Or, they under-manage by not giving their employees enough direction, detail or feedback.

These kinds of problems are more frequent than one would imagine and they occur for a number of reasons. For one, managers are usually promoted based on their technical expertise, and are rarely trained to have strong people management skills. Many times, they also lack good role models for how a manager should behave under various circumstances and what leadership looks like. And last, but not least, they rarely get timely and specific feedback from their employees as to how they are doing.

If a boss needs to be managed for one of the reasons mentioned above, here are some practical things one can do to help improve their relationship with them:

See Things from Their Perspective

A good place to start is understanding the challenges the boss is dealing with and finding out what kind of pressures he or she is under. This can make a big difference in understanding why the boss is not managing people properly.

Provide Positive Feedback

It is important to give the manager positive feedback on what is working well in the relationship. For example, one can say: “Thanks for responding so promptly when I needed your help with my client’s emergency. My client was very pleased with the result and your help was instrumental in retaining this client.”

Provide Feed-Forward

When the goal is to change the manager’s behaviour, instead of giving feedback on what didn’t work in the past, employees should focus on what they would like them to do going forward. Shifting the focus from the past to the future will help both parties maintain a positive state of mind. Focusing on the past and what didn’t work can often create feelings of resistance and resentment. Since feed-forward focuses on the future (things that have yet to happen), this creates a positive environment which will help the boss change his or her behaviour more quickly.

Be a Role Model

If an employee wants their boss to do certain things, they should do them themselves. For example, if the boss needs to improve their listening skills, they should practice active listening in their interactions with them. The boss will soon start mirroring their behaviour and match what they are doing.

Finally, it is important to remember that just as managers need to adapt their leadership style to the person they are dealing with, so should the employees. Not all bosses can be managed the same way. It is critical to find out what their preferred leadership style is, how they can be influenced, what works for them and what doesn’t. If the employee does their homework and takes the time to prepare an action plan, the results will soon follow.