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Managing (your relationship with) your boss.


The relationship a manager has with their boss is of fundamental importance to the ability to perform well within their role. The relationship needs to be managed and has to be a conscious act and not simply a case of being pleasant or getting along well together. What is being managed is the relationship--not the individual.

Your relationship with your boss is the most important relationship you have. A good relationship produces a productive and communicative working relationship ensuring you both know what is possible and feasible and therefore, ultimately, achieving results that matter to you both. A good working relationship improves self-esteem, aids your personal development and helps to overcome problems or conflict when they arise.

It is important to make the time and take the trouble to talk to each other, this will help you form an alliance in order to work towards a common goal. It will also help you to better understand your manager's objectives and values. This in turn will enable you to support the weaker areas of your manager's style. However, be wary of encouraging you boss to think that an idea of yours was theirs.

This checklist will help those who wish, or need, to manage the relationship with their boss more effectively. Remember to appraise and review your current work, future goals and the relationship at regular intervals to ensure a good working relationship is maintained.

National Occupational Standards for Management and Leadership

This checklist has relevance to the following standards:

D: working with people, unit 1


A good working relationship between you and your boss should enable you to develop your skills, knowledge and career and therefore combine fairness, mutual respect, trust and rapport, as well as openness and honesty in communication.

Managing your boss is about constructing a relationship of trust, respect and support. It means acknowledging who is the boss but maintaining the freedom to do the best for the organisation, the team and yourself. The key word is "manage"; implying an on-going process and not a one-off activity.

Action checklist

1. Communicate properly

... on time, in adequate detail and regularly; make sure formal communication works, but also ensure you simply talk and compare notes from time to time. Prevention is better than cure, and effective communication prevents a lot of misunderstandings and breakdowns in relationships.

2. Identify any blockages

Examine your current relationship with your boss. Identify where the blockages to a good working relationship lie--perhaps you have trouble communicating, or find it hard to express your own opinions or have discussions about workload. Identify what triggers these problems. Also think about parts of the relationship that work well. Build upon these and work on cutting problems in other areas.

3. Identify your boss's leadership style

It is important to be able to recognise the way, or ways, that your boss typically acts or behaves towards you. The following are typical leadership styles: bureaucratic, charismatic, dictatorial, consultative, laissez-faire. A specific style or mix of them will require different approaches from you. Think too about your boss's 'thinking' style. It's no surprise that we get on well with some people but others rub you up the wrong way. Try to figure out if your boss is one for the minutiae, for the 'big picture', reactive or proactive, likes or hates change, is a right-brain or left-brain boss.

4. Identify your boss's key objectives and values

Think about what is important to your boss and work hard on these areas. The two main areas to pay attention to are:

* What, in the eyes of your manager, are the key objectives and what support can you give towards achieving them?

* What personal values your boss holds dear--for instance customer care. Work on supporting these values and don't do things that are contrary to them. Be wary, however, of evidently self-interested values, such as personal status.

5. Clarify boundaries of responsibility

Sort out with your boss exactly what decisions you can make:

* after discussion with your boss

* on your own but reporting to your boss afterwards

* on your own with no need to report.

Lack of clarity can be a major source of conflict and friction.

6. Tackle the simple issues

Look through the problems you have identified and decide which are the simple issues to solve. Can small administrative problems be solved by introducing a simple new system? Discuss minor sensitivities (e.g. opening the office window, working in silence or with background noise) with your boss and try to reach a compromise. Don't waste time reporting unimportant successes.

Work overload is often a common cause of conflict. Don't take on work you can't manage--be honest but remember your manager's objectives and always suggest an alternative solution. Don't underestimate yourself or your point of view. If you don't have faith in your ability to do a good job and develop in your role, your boss certainly won't.

7. Tackle longer term issues with assertiveness

Some blockages can't be removed overnight. Concentrate on building up a stronger relationship with your boss. This means being assertive but not aggressive. Express your point of view, respect your boss's opinions and work to find mutually acceptable solutions to existing problems. This will improve the value of your relationship and help you to handle difficult situations more effectively in the future. Don't loop the system by going over your boss's head--however attractive this may seem. If you feel blocked, tackle the issues directly to avoid creating other problems later.

8. Focus on loyalty and support

Concentrate on supporting the weak spots in your boss's make up without making it too obvious you are doing so. Find out what parts of the business they enjoy and are good at, and those they doesn't like doing or perhaps doesn't have the skills to deal with. Make yourself indispensable. Show you are keen to learn skills which complement your boss's skills. Win their trust by achieving things they value. Together you can become a winning team.

9. Think about how other people see you

People can assume a lot about your abilities from the way you look or the way you present yourself. They may think a scruffy, sullen looking person is disorganised, bad at their job and generally unreliable. Look smart. Smile and act positive. Celebrate your successes. Make sure your manager knows when you have done well and that your success is theirs too.

10. Seize on opportunities

Keep your eye on the big picture and not just the task in hand. Don't use an overload of work as an excuse to avoid activities such as attending conferences or meeting senior directors. Weigh up the short-term disadvantages against the potential longer-term value for the organisation. Think about what these opportunities do for your development and what you could learn.

11. Communicate your agenda

There's no need to be abrasive, but a modicum of repetition may be useful in making sure that your agenda gets heard. This may relate to specific projects or on-going work but think about the bigger picture too. What do you want to learn? Where do you want your career to go? Instead of always playing your boss's tune, develop joint objectives.

12. Review issues and actions, and plan future development

Appraise issues which are important to you and discuss them with your manager. They are actually important to them too, because if you fail, your boss fails. Discuss problems before they get out of hand and have some ideas for solutions ready to talk through.

13. When relationships are genuinely difficult

Most of this checklist holds good if you have a boss who is a fairly reasonable human being. Sometimes you may be faced with a difficult boss. Three of the worst types of boss can be the bully, the sexually harassing boss, and the glory-stealing boss. It is not easy to deal with any of these although there is some protection from employment law to draw on with the first two. Take a look at the Additional Resources for ways of dealing with the glory-stealer--there are techniques involving keeping records, collecting evidence and bypassing your boss.

14. Nip conflict in the bud

If conflict breaks out between you and your boss--handle it. Don't run away or tackle anger with anger (See Related Checklists).

15. Review the relationship

Sit down from time to time and ask "How are we doing?" Focus on the relationship so that you both know where things stand, and can work to improve and maintain the underlying relationship between you. If a conflict--or a particularly successful joint approach--has occurred, use it as a vehicle for reviewing the relationship and work out what to do again in the future and what to do differently next time.

How not to Manage your Relationship with your Boss


* be passive--always doing what your manager wants and not putting forward your own viewpoint

* be aggressive--fighting fire with fire rarely works

* go over your boss's head if you can avoid it

* ignore problems and avoid discussing them

* hinder open communication.

Additional resources


Managing your boss in a week, Sandi Mann

London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2000

Defective bosses: working for the dysfunctional dozen, Kerry Carson and Paula Phillips Carson

New York: Haworth Press, 1998

This is a selection of books available for loan to members from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Journal articles

Managing your boss, John J Gabarro and John P Kotter

Harvard Business Review, Jan vol 83 no 1, 2005, pp92,94-99

Rescue remedy, Jan Francois Manzoni and Jean Louis Barsoux

People Management, 14 Oct vol 10 no 20, 2004, pp27-30

How to manage your boss, Stefan Stern

Management Today, Oct 2004, pp50,53,55

Ten rules for managing your boss, Jacques Horovitz

Perspectives for Managers, Jan no 85, 2002, whole issue

This is a selection of journal articles available from the Management Information Centre. More information at:

Related checklists

Ensuring Clear Communication (200)

Handling Conflict Situations (064)
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Title Annotation:Checklist 047
Publication:Chartered Management Institute: Checklists: People Management
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2006
Previous Article:Managing a secondment.
Next Article:Managing absenteeism.

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