Hate your boss? Learn to Manage Up!

September 21, 2017 •  6 minute read • by Saeed

“An employee’s motivation is a direct result of the sum of interactions with his or her manager. ”

-Bob Nelson

Sorry people, in this post, we’re going to get real. In fact, this is less blog post and more intervention for those of you out there who just can’t get along with your boss.

If you feel you are more intelligent and gifted than those above you, then this article is for you. What you need to know is that there are just some truths you can’t avoid when it comes to the wild and wacky world of work. And it doesn’t get more real than when you have to deal with the boss you despise.

Whether you like it or not, you chose this ship (no one forced you to take that job) and it’s now up to you to navigate the murky waters in which you swim. If you didn’t already know, the most significant factor impacting your job satisfaction is your relationship with your boss. Managing up doesn’t mean sucking up but it does require you to tap into your higher self. The best way to do that is to, well, suck it up and face some cold hard truths.

Cold hard truth #1: Your are expendable. Remember, the most advanced technical skills and content knowledge do not supersede the relationship you have with your boss. That’s a harsh place to start but I felt I needed to first stick your face in a bucket of ice water and wake you up. Now you’re ready to hear the rest.

Cold hard truth #2: Most managers are either overextended, overwhelmed, or downright incompetent. Yup, I said it. Incompetent. That’s because they never learned the art and science of management. They were just thrown into it. While it may be hard, the best approach here is empathy and compassion. Seriously.

Cold hard truth #3: Even if your boss has some serious shortcomings, it’s in your best interest, and it’s your responsibility, to make the relationship work. That’s right. It’s your responsibility, not theirs. Once you get your head around that, you’ll be able to walk the higher ground. And walk the higher ground, you must.

Cold hard truth #4: Your job is to support your boss’ success. Whatever you actual job may be, that’s your real job. It’s not to drag them down, show them up, or step over or around them. This is your mission and you have no choice but to accept it if you want to be successful at your job.

Cold hard truth #5: As much as you’d like to see them crawl back under the rock from which they came, you are going to have to muster up some EQ and nurture your relationship. Get to know them as a person. I’m not saying go ice skating together but you do need to have a sense of them as a person, their motivations and their struggles. Simple questions about them as a human being can a go a long way to building empathy for them as a person.

Cold hard truth #6: Understand their goals. By understanding their goals, you’ll be able to calibrate what you do to what their desired outcomes and objectives are for themselves and the company. Everything you do is directly tied to that.

Cold hard truth #7: It is up to you to find a way to be a genuine source of help. That means being the most effective employee you can be and  creating value for your boss and the company. It doesn’t matter that you hate your job. Remember, you chose your job, it did not choose you.

Cold hard truth #8: You have to educate them on You. Research shows that great managers uncover what’s unique about each person on the team and then exploit it (I mean that in a good way). Instead of having the arrogant expectation that they should know you, help them uncover what’s great about you.  Tell them your strengths, your struggles, how you deal with pressure and conflict and what lights your fire. Help them help you.

Cold hard truth #9: Your boss is not a prescient mind-reader. Learn to communicate proactively and to anticipate their needs. Ask what they need or better yet, do what they need before they have to ask you to do it. Align your needs with their goals. Find their preferred method of communication and use it. If they like to read bullet points, don’t write long rambling emails that frustrate them. Even if they don’t ask, keep them updated on your projects and progress. And if your boss is a micromanager, the more outgoing information you convey, they less they will ask about what’s happening.

Cold hard truth #10: You may have to help your boss become a better leader. I know that’s so hard to swallow when you think or know you could do it better yourself. John Baldoni, author of “Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up” says that great leaders have established the three Cs necessary to become an influential leader – competency, credibility and confidence. Your boss may lack one or all three. Help to support their weaknesses and you will reap the rewards.

Before you go…

Remember how at the top we acknowledged that you are more intelligent and gifted than those above you.  Well, maybe you are. And maybe, you should give your boss some credit for that. The best leaders make every attempt at building their organizations with people who are brighter and more talented than they are. This is a laudable practice that should be admired by workers, not resented.

Despite your best efforts to build a good relationship, there may come a time when you’ve lost your boss’s trust. It happens. And while it may take some diligent effort on your part, it is possible to put the relationship back on track.  Be mindful. Be grateful. Be patient. Have a good attitude. Be positive. Do the best job you can do. If your work doesn’t speak for itself, or if it does and isn’t being recognized, rather than act out, move on honorably and look for a better fit.

Good luck.


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