We all report to somebody. Having the key to how to handle your manager can make or break your career. It’s true that all managers are different, but in my experience, managers are more alike than different.
1. Respect their time
I am sure that your manager likes you. But your manager will like you more if you don’t waste their time. So don’t linger, babble, or be obtuse. Be clear about what you want to say before you see your manager, and say it fast. Like I said, your manager probably likes you, but you are one of many competing priorities and time is of the essence.
2. Managers should only have to say things once to you
Pay attention, take notes, and ask your questions while they are talking about the topic. If your manager is doing a drive-by with a complex request, and you are caught off guard without something to write with, ask for permission to get it. It’s better to do that than to say “yes, yes”, then have to loop back around to your manager and make them repeat it because you forgot.
3. Highlight results rather than time
Tell your manager what the outcomes of your project will be and what your timeline is. Avoid mentioning how busy you are. Some tasks are easier than others, and your manager doesn’t need to know all that. More importantly, your manager is probably trying to orchestrate yours and others’ deliverables.
4. Tell on yourself
As soon as you realize that you might miss your outcomes or your timeline, tell on yourself. You will be thanked and trusted more. The earlier, the better, because there might still be time to get back on track. If there are obstacles that you need removed, say so. Don’t be shy to ask for help.
5. Emails that inform and get action
Is this an update or a request? Clarify this in the subject or at the beginning of the email because your manager is thinking “Is there something I need to do?”. If you need your manager to do something, say it upfront, then briefly describe why. Then describe the situation, in bullet points. Nobody wants a block of wall to wall writing. Say something short and encouraging at the bottom of the email.
If the email is an update, don’t expect an answer. Trust me, your manager knows where to find you if there are questions.
6. Identify and highlight problems… along with some solutions
Your manager, as a leader in the organization, should be made aware of problems. This is how the team and the organization improve. Since you are often closer to the problem, offer some solutions. The manager might or might not take your solutions, but will appreciate you trying.
Request shorter 1:1 meetings. Did I mention that managers lack time? So, short, focused meetings. Book a 30 minute meeting instead of an hour. Come in with a tight agenda, and stick to it. They will appreciate your time management and organization, and the time you’ve just given back to them.
Put the agenda in the invite. This gives your manager the option of knowing what’s coming and to prepare. Bring a written agenda to hand to your manager first-thing. You’re in charge of the agenda if you scheduled the meeting with your manager. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Stick to agenda.
Take notes on any decisions that were made, who made them, who is responsible, and by when. State dependencies. Send to your manager after your meeting, if that’s what the manager wants.
8. When your manager wants to chill with you
This is good. Maybe your manager wants to get to know you a little. If so, keep it professional, and don’t go beyond hobbies, where you grew up, and who lives with you now. Maybe your manager wants to hear your objective feedback about something. In which case, be honest and constructive, and it’s ok to disagree since it’s just the two of you. Don’t be scared to ask your manager questions, and to show interest. What is your manager’s long-term professional goals? The more you know about each other, the more you will be able to understand your priorities and motivations.
9. Be bold
Most managers want the best for their teams, and want to see you develop professionally. They appreciate a direct report who sees and solves problems on their own initiative and resources. Managers appreciate and promote people who are thoughtful, bold, and see matters from an organizational perspective. You can make your team, your manager, and yourself more valuable in the marketplace.
Learning how to handle your manager is one of the best things you can do for yourself. It will help you in your career, and it will help your manager. You can’t control your manager, but you can control yourself. And, as Steven Covey says: "What you do has far greater impact than what you say."
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner