How many more studies have to be conducted before managers at all levels truly understand the power they hold with their direct reports? After all, employees don’t leave companies; they leave people; it is the relationship between an employee and their manager that determines whether an employee stays or leaves. Perhaps, like me, you have experienced in your professional life a few particularly ineffective types of managers. Here are a few of my “favorites” and some tips for managing the relationship with your manager:
The “Dr. Jekyll and Mr./Mrs. Hyde” Boss – Oh, how many of these have I experienced in my professional past? You go to a meeting prepared with all the data and figures, and they want an executive summary. The next time, you have boiled down the details to a finely tuned, short and sweet synopsis; however, this time, they insist you prove every point with nothing but the facts. How’s an employee to know what to do the next time?
First, seek to understand the root of any request as well as what the boss’ needs are for each situation, report, project, etc. Even if it feels as if this approach will take more time and effort, it’s nearly always more efficient to verify assumptions before spending time on a task that doesn’t align with the manager’s expectations or needs. Take the initiative to understand upfront what the boss is looking for each time, and always be prepared to share as much information as possibleand the executive summary to ensure you’ve practiced boiling it down. And if your boss asks you a question that you cannot answer, don’t be afraid to buy yourself more time: “That’s a great question. I want to give you as accurate a response as I can. Give me 30 minutes to get you the correct answer. I will get back to you.”
The “No Rules Until You Break One” Leader – I worked for a small company years ago at which the employee handbook literally consisted of one sentence: “Do your best every day.” While this sounds like a workplace of massive empowerment and creative freedom, nothing could have been further from the truth. As a matter of fact, there were definite expectations in the minds of the two partners but the employees did not know the rules until one was broken. Best advice with leaders like these is to ask for specifics before jumping in: establish end goals; identify parameters or politics within which you must work; delineate the processes they feel are important and a picture of what the expected outcomes should look like. One of my favorite questions: “When I’ve completed this, what will be better as a result?” And on the occasion, you will get the answer, “I just want you to do your best.” If you do, get agreement on conducting regular check-ins to make sure you’re staying on track with what the boss is thinking and expecting.
The “Smartest One in the Room” Manager – She was one of my first managers many years ago. Perhaps you’ve met the manager with the superiority complex who is dismissive of other opinions until the idea is good enough to claim as their own. They often love to hear the sound of their own voices, cut others off before they can finish a spoken thought and rarely make an attempt to truly listen, much less ask questions in an attempt to understand the other person’s point of view.
So, how do you deal with the know-it-all boss? First, you must build credibility in the boss’ eyes. Let them see you in action, doing what you do best or producing great results when working within your area of expertise. If you can build relationships with others who are influencers of your boss, help them know how to advocate for you to your manager in ways that showcase how your performance actually makes your manager look good, too. As for direct dealings with your manager, the key is to be tactful and transparent yet assertive in your communications.
It is important to understand that, especially in these kinds of scenarios and in even more extreme cases, you’re not going to completely change this boss’ behavior. A wise person once coached me that we teach people how to treat us each day by our own actions and our tolerance of their actions. The primary goal is to stop any bad behavior that’s directed at you. If you’re able to do so, then you’ll be able to work more productively and effectively in producing great results for which you, and even your boss, may be noticed.
Meredith Masse, Senior Vice President at ICC, Inc. the OI Global Partner based in Denver and Cincinnati, is on a personal mission to create “best places to work” filled with engaged employees and “follower-worthy” managers and leaders. Connect with her on LinkedIn and on Twitter.