How to Have a Productive Relationship with Your Manager
Setting clear expectations is essential to building a productive relationship with anyone, and your boss is no exception. Though it's a two-way street, give your manager's priorities top consideration—after all, she's in charge. Identify what she wants from you and do your best to deliver it.
Know What Your Manager Expects
Your boss will want you to fulﬁll your key responsibilities, meet her standards for performance, and achieve objective measures of success. But you can't do any of that until you understand how she deﬁnes those responsibilities and standards and which metrics she'll use to gauge your progress. Ask her to describe what she's looking for in your work. If she doesn't articulate her expectations clearly, try writing them up and sharing that informal document with her to make sure you've captured them accurately. Then schedule a follow-up conversation or ask for written feedback—whichever your manager prefers. You'll want to revisit those expectations periodically, in case they change.
Every job—and every manager-subordinate relationship—is different. But most managers expect some combination of these behaviors from their direct reports:
- Offer ideas. Make creative suggestions for innovation or improvement. If you have an idea, err on the side of sharing it rather than squelching it.
- Manage your own direct reports competently. Coordinate their efforts, foster camaraderie, write useful and speciﬁc performance reviews, support their professional development, step in when one of them falls behind, and manage crises with skill and patience. When your boss needs to hear bad news about one of your direct reports, deliver that news yourself.
- Collaborate with peers. Work collegially with others toward your manager's goals. Overcome differences with coworkers, even if you dislike one another, with the aim of getting the job done.
- Lead initiatives. Raise your hand for cross-functional projects, particularly those that involve implementing new ideas. Make clear how your involvement is consistent with your manager's expectations of you.
- Stay current. Keep abreast of industry trends, marketplace developments, advances in technology, and other events outside the company that may affect its success. Bring your insights to bear on your work.
- Drive your own growth. Seek out professional development opportunities. This can mean taking classes or pursuing a degree—but it doesn't have to. You might simply expose yourself to new ideas and people or accept challenging assignments that enhance the value you add to your team and your company.
- Be a player for all seasons. Stay positive even during hard times. That will inspire and motivate your direct reports, your peers, and your manager.
Managers differ in how much value they place on each of these behaviors. Tailor your emphasis according to your boss's expectations and work style.