By Jim Annis
I have learned over time that the boss is not the number one priority at work every day. Some CEOs create an anxiety-ridden self-centered environment. Others are the "perfect boss." It's important to manage either relationship in a healthy way that develops your career as well as meets your boss's needs. Why? Employees look for three things from their higher-ups: resources, permission, or support. Creating a reciprocal relationship with your boss will allow you to seek those things AND give the boss what they require to be successful.
How do you manage up?
Minimizing - or at least not accentuating - the power gap between you and the boss is important to gain power because "High power makes you deaf and low power gives you laryngitis," as noted in the leadership book "Influence Without Authority" by Allan R. Cohen and David L. Bradford. Reduce your insecurities. When employees and employers are equally engaged, it reduces the reliance on internal process/hierarchy and promotes relationship-building.
When to help the boss
Think about your manager's goals. How can you support those efforts? Do they put off decisions? Ask them what will help facilitate moving forward. Keep your boss productive by helping them stay out of the weeds and say, "I'll take care of that, don't worry!" Then take care of it. Sometimes, you may begin an uncomfortable conversation. All too often, disagreement is associated with insubordination and accompanies a fear of being fired. The employee tendency is to give up too early, which is a career-limiting move. Powerful people act powerfully, and usually they also want powerful direct reports.
Communication for the greater good
Communication takes time, energy and being proactive by asking open-ended questions and exploring with "tell me more." Many leaders are Type A personalities which might not allow them to say, "I need help," or even more important, "I need time off." It may take courage for CEOs to ask because of perceived weakness.
Mental health day or six-month sabbatical?
You have to know when your boss needs one or the other, and feel comfortable telling him or her. It takes preparation. Education – directly from the boss – is critical. If it does not exist, ask your boss to make a job description that not only defines what they do, but how they do it. Then ask them to present it to you and the people to whom he will delegate in case of absence or daily needs.
When my mom and dad passed away within months of each other, I was very distracted. During a staff meeting when I was clearly struggling, one of my directors suggested, kindly and respectfully, that I might want to take the afternoon off. I wound up taking a month off, but should have taken a year. The company survived just fine. I am grateful they took a risk in telling me because managing up worked.
Once you put these recommendations into action, how do you know your managing up is working? Three clear signs: 1) you are both more like partners than in a hierarchical relationship, 2) your efforts are recognized by your boss, 3) they rely on you more over time at a strategic level.
Jim Annis is president/CEO of The Applied Companies, which provide HR solutions for today's workplace. Celeste Johnson and Tom Miller, Applied's division directors, contributed to this article.
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