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Managing to Manage While Learning to Lead

Managing your Manager

Tips for a Successful Working Relationship


In this series, we have talked a great deal about the difficulties managers face with employees, but what about difficulties employees face with their managers. You didn’t expect me to be one-sided, did you, after all this series is all about perspective not persecution or pigeonholing.

It is true that managers carry the weight of a lot of factors unseen and unknown to their employees. For many managers, we are currently weeding through P&L statements trying to find ways to cut costs in already tight budgets. We may be staring at the first-time reality of life in the red, due to unforeseen market, economic, or political shifts that we know will impact the future of our operations, that we know will impact our staff. These are facets we can’t always share, due to confidentiality, so instead we carry the weight of that reality and the decisions to come. And, in an effort to unburden others, we wear the burden ourselves – which can sometimes look and feel like a stress straitjacket.

So, if you ever wonder how you can bolster a better relationship with your manager, here are some tips. As I wrote in my previous article, the management team is made up of thinking, feeling, empathizing humans, and like you, all we want is a productive, conducive, and comfortable working environment. Some manager can be jerks and hide behind a shrouded veil of authority, but by-in-large, we are decent people.

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On stressful days, perspective is key.

Always keep in mind that every situation has multiple sides. If your manager is stressed because one employee is always showing up late, is unprepared, or is creating ongoing customer issues, consider the circumstances. Don’t assume that the manager is choosing to be stressed.

Like managers who do their best to consider your perspective when entering difficult conversations, you should offer them the same courtesy. Take stock in what is going on on certain days, and if things are stressful, perhaps wait for a better, more opportune, time to offer your feedback or share a concern (unless it requires immediate action). There is always a time and place for every conversation, keep that in mind and ask yourself if the need you are presenting can be tabled for a better day, a more appropriate conversation or meeting, or a more relevant time.

Know peak times and be a planner.

No one likes to be caught off guard with last minute deadlines, especially on vital projects. The unfortunate reality is that most industries have peak times of the month, quarter, or year – and the better we anticipate those times, the better working environment we create.

If you know that the 1st and 3rd quarters are crazy, and as a general rule the projects or customer needs are the same, plan ahead. Mark your calendar with reminders so you can start your planning in advance. How can you get items off your current to-do list and clear time for the onslaught of customer inquiries, orders, requests, or projects?

By anticipating based on work-flow patterns, setting reminders for yourself, and clearing your to-do list, you create space for those tight turnaround times. When your manager sees or realizes you are doing this and it benefits you and the team, he/she will certainly take notice. In fact, this kind of thoughtful planning, initiative-taking, and stress-reduction often leads to more opportunities and promotions because you have shown you can forecast, plan, manage your time, and produce results.

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Solve problems, don’t simply parade them around.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when my perfectly capable, well-trained and educated staff bring me more problems than they do solutions. Show your manager what you are capable of by presenting them with a problem but already having a solution in mind. This is not to say that the manager will always use your offered solution, but the sheer fact that you thought it through and made a plan to correct or mitigate the problem is a great way to prove you are capable of dealing with difficult situations.

Take Initiative to show your capabilities.

I cannot say this enough – initiative is a definitive sign of someone who a manager can grow professionally. People who fly under the radar and simply do the minimum will stay in their positions until they get bored enough to leave. People who take on more, voluntarily to help the team or out of the desire for professional development, are the people who land on our radar. You are more than just the sum of your parts, resume, or the job description for your role – you are an intelligent, thoughtful, initiative-taking person who can achieve most anything. Show us!!

Own your role in good and bad.

This is a biggy as well. The more ownership and accountability you take in and of your role the more you are able to do, and the less your manager feels the need to micro-manage. I have rarely met a manager who actually wants to micro-manage anyone. We hire you to make the work of the team easier and more balanced, not to follow you around all day and double check everything. Managers are looking for you to not only add expertise to the team but to also know how to own your role, understand how to prioritize, and meet the expectations. Thus, if you don’t, you have to own that too – no blaming, deflecting, or pointing fingers at others. You own the role you have chosen (aka to succeed or to do the minimum) in good times and bad.

Establish a reputation.

When I write this, a few personality types come to mind. You don’t necessarily want your personality to be the key factor, though you should be yourself- just not your out on the town self. Instead you want your ability and accomplishments to be the key factors. Most managers work very hard to recognize a person’s aptitude, dependability, and successes when leveraging professional development. If we chose based on personality, we might mistakenly choose friends over true performers. That would not help anyone.

So, here’s just a few examples of who not to be when establishing your reputation.

Hyperbolic Heather- you know her, she’s the one who a.l.w.a.y.s has an opinion about EVERYTHING. She’s not a lover of problem solving, but man does she love to complain and find fault with every organizational change and every idea. When she gets together with Dramatic Dan, it is best to leave the room because these two feed off each other in the worst of ways.

venice-2032296__340What do managers think of these two types of personalities? Most steer clear of them, as they present themselves in such a way that they show a lack of aptitude to a) choose their battles intelligently, b) problem solve, and c) respect that others in the room don’t need or want their negativity.  Imagine if they were the leaders, with all the constant change that we manage, man would that be a circus.

Carter Condescending- yep, you know him too. He’s impossible to have a conversation with because he believes his way is the only way to solve a problem. When responding to the ideas of others, he often leads with puffy, gruffy “you can’t be serious …”.

What do managers think of this type of behavior, a) he lacks the maturity to have adult conversations- which are vital to organizational communication, b) he lacks the insight needed to consider other ways of doing things or the opinions of others, and c) if he was a leader, he would likely micro-manage his team to the point that great people leave or never get developed – as he would run a dictatorship rather than a democracy.

When I say establish your reputation, I would suggest you focus on being reliable, being a logical problem solver, contributing to the team in productive, meaningful ways, being a willing listener, and being unafraid to step up when needed.

Communicate with a goal in mind.

This does not mean brown-nose. Communicating with a goal, or solution, in mind means that you can share your concerns and frustrations with your manager because you know you’ve already thought it through and you have a way to better the situation or solve the problem.

We all need to vent. And some people need to say things aloud to work through them or feel validated and supported. The key here is that you should think it through, figure out a solution or a different approach and when you present it, present the concern followed by your thoughts on next steps.

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This shows your manager that you are taking ownership of your job. It shows us that you know your job so well that you understand the best ways to approach setbacks. It is highly likely that we know your job well too, as we have done it before in some capacity, but we also entrusted you with the role because we believe you are highly capable.

The unspoken bonus here, as you learn how to fully navigate your job, problem solve, and grow your own knowledge and confidence, it is empowering. It builds your resume and your potential in the market, and above all, it helps other- managers included- trust in your aptitude.

Remember, we are all humans here.

As I have written before, managers are not the “them” in your push-pull analogies. We all have a common goal, we all want our organization to be successful so we can enjoy the benefits of a cohesive work environment and job growth. We all want to be able to enjoy moments of laughter together, celebrate successes, and work as a team to get through the difficult periods. This is not an ideal- not if we really respect each other, contribute, and communicate.

The next time you are feeling frustrated, standing at the door of your manager’s office, ready to unload, just remember we are all humans here. Use the tips provided to help you navigate that relationship and build healthy and successful ways to contribute to your team, your organization, and, above all, yourself.

Let us know what you think. How have you established better working rapport with your manager, how can your experience help others do the same? 


Suggested books on this topic:

How to Win Friends & Influence People

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The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change

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The Power of Positive Thinking

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About the Author

Gwendolyn is a lover of travel and culture, having visited over 13 countries and having lived most of her adult life in Europe and Asia – where she explored, learned, and fell in love.

In her professional career she has worn the hat of director in International Education, professor, trainer, strategist and fundraiser for nonprofits. Most recently she started lifeinherent.com and co-founded Laifeu LLC.


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