If I asked you to list the most important resources available to you at work, would your manager be near the top of your list? They should be. Your manager can be a valuable resource, an ally, a conduit to learning and progression, and even a friend. And though it might not always feel like it, unless you're very unlucky, your manager almost certainly wants you to succeed, be happy, and enjoy your work.
That person in your manager's chair could be you, a couple of years or so down the line, when you'll have responsibilities you're not currently aware of, more pressure (but yes, money too) and sometimes won't be able to share things with your team even though you'd like to.
We look to our managers to have all the answers – and perhaps, even, to be better people than us - which is why we're disappointed when they're not.
But just like you, your manager is a person on a learning curve, a work in progress. This is true regardless of their experience, because every new degree of seniority and every new job we take on holds new responsibilities and new challenges.
Managing your manager isn't about pulling the wool over their eyes or getting one up on them – it's about helping them to get the best out of you. Quite simply, the better you manage your manager, the better your chances of progression and (for some, even more rewardingly) of ensuring you have a great relationship with them.
And sometimes, it also pays simply to remember that empathy is a two-way street, that your manager is just a fallible human being, and to forgive them their weaknesses while being thankful for their strengths - as they should you. This attitude in itself could make your working life a lot more rewarding.
Here are some actions you can take to get the best out of your manager, and to help them get the best out of you. And by the way, I'd expect your manager to be doing all of this – and more – for you, as well as their own manager!
Get to know them
It pays to get to know your manager as an individual, as they should you. Take the time to understand your boss's motivations, ambitions, likes and dislikes. It can be lonely being a manager, but when you're promoted into a management role for the first time, you're not given a survival kit that enables you to suddenly deal with everything that life throws at you. You don't change, but the expectations and demands on you do.
So take time to watch your boss in a meeting - how they behave, how they react to pressure, what their pressures and stresses are. Don't try to become their new best friend, but do support them in a professional way, as they should you.
Just as they will want to understand how you work, it's helpful for you to understand what pushes your manager's buttons, too. The more you know about them, the better placed you are to be able to work in tune with them.
Give them bad news as early as possible
Your manager will have pressures of their own, and one thing that can really ruin their day (or week) is an unpleasant surprise. A minor issue can become a problem when multiplied by time left unattended. If you're working on a project or task or managing people or clients, it's better to share any issues with your manager right away while you can still deal with them between you.
Of course there are different shades of this, and your manager may be encouraging you to make more decisions without them as part of your personal development, but the trick is to consider the consequences of not telling your manager about something and learning when they need to know about what's going on. You can always ask them about this!
Help them to set reciprocal expectations
It's a good idea to tell your manager how to get the best out of you and how you like to be managed – especially useful for an incoming manager. This is a question I'd expect your future manager to ask you in an interview if they're the person responsible for hiring you, but if you're an established employee about to gain a new boss who is new to the company, this can be a useful conversation to have.
You must be careful not to overstep the mark here, though. You'd hope a new manager would set up meetings with all their new team to have this kind of conversation, but if they don't you can always ask them for a meeting to find out how they like to manage, what their vision for the team is, and what they expect of you. This should create an appropriate forum for a two-way conversation.
Work from the assumption that fairness matters to them
Everyone makes mistakes, but if you feel like your manager is getting unnecessarily hot under the collar about your mistakes and yours only, take a moment to review the situation before you decide you're being picked on.
Are you a repeat offender? Do you continually make the same mistakes despite your manager's intervention and coaching? From your manager's point of view, you may be letting the team down. A manager is responsible for the performance (and within reason, the wellbeing) of a team, and if someone's behaviour jeopardises that, the manager has to take action for the good of everybody else.
Remember that what seems like "finicky" or pedantic behaviour to you may well just be about fairness to others. It's not always easy to see our own faults, so sometimes we need to be picked up on them.
Listen, take note and learn
When you're with your boss, if appropriate and at all possible, take notes on their advice and reflect on it. This is especially true in your early experiences with a new boss who may feel they need to coach you.
Imagine you've been brought into a business to manage a team. Of course you'll want to learn about the business, and of course you'll ask the team lots of questions. But you'll also have your own vision and advice, and you'd expect your team to want to understand what it is. That's why I see note-taking, body language and willingness to learn as important indicators of someone's credibility as an employee.
Part 2 of this blog is now live. Read it here!