How I long for the Sixties. Back in those days, you could receive a free decoder ring inside boxes of select breakfast cereals. I can’t say for sure if that ring really worked, as I wasn’t allowed to venture too far outside the four walls of the playroom. But for a young child, there was something magical about that ring. Once you put it on, it felt like you could decode anything. There have been many times in my career as a manager when I wished I had kept that ring. Maybe I would have had an easier time understanding where my boss was coming from.
I’m a bit older now and am forced to live in the world of reality, where decoder rings are a thing of the past. Or are they? Consider this article a modern version of a decoder ring: read it carefully to unlock the hidden secrets of your boss’s management style. By doing so, you will be able to adjust your expectations and communication style so you can achieve a prosperous and peaceful coexistence with one of the most important people in your life—your boss.
The problem with bosses is that no two are alike. Right about the time you’ve figured out what your boss needs, you get promoted. That is, you get promoted if you’ve done a good job of managing your boss. Otherwise, you may find yourself on Craigslist searching for a new job. We are also living at a time of greater diversity of bosses. With our global economy, you may have a boss who is from another country or who may actually live in that other country while he manages you remotely. Exciting? Yes. Easy to manage? Not so much. Here are some tips on how to decipher your boss’s management style:
1. Don’t assume anything. Don’t assume that what you are thinking is an appropriate way of communicating with a new boss and that this approach is going to match his needs and style. Ask your boss how he prefers to receive communications from you. For example, does he prefer a weekly status report or would he rather meet every other week for a one-on-one? By asking this up front, you may avoid wasting time writing reports that he will never read.
2. Watch, observe and take note. Have you ever noticed how some people in your office are masters at managing your boss? What is it that they specifically do that yields these results? Do they allow the boss to finish her thought before jumping in with possible solutions? Have they figured out the best times to address complicated issues with the boss? Look for the clues that will help you unlock the secrets of building a trusting relationship with your boss and you’ll be well on your way to effectively managing up.
3. Scan your environment. Is it fast paced? Are you working for a large, multinational corporation or in an industry marked by lots of acquisitions and consolidations? Is your boss so busy that she has little time for the details and barely has time for the facts? If so, it’s your responsibility to adjust your communication style by limiting the amount of time your boss needs to spend with you. This means being fully prepared for meetings, asking for help only when you really need it and building allies throughout the organization who can help you, so your boss isn’t the only “go to” person in your network.
4. Tell people what they need to know. All too often we do what I like to call data dumping. We go into the boss’s office and we dump every piece of data on his desk. We do this to demonstrate how thorough we’ve been in preparing for a project. This approach usually backfires. Rather than thinking that we are really smart, the boss begins to question our intelligence. He then begins to wonder why it is that we cannot simply provide him with our final recommendation based on the research we are supposed to be doing. After all, isn’t this what he is paying us to do?
Keep asking yourself, “So what? Does this person really need to know this?” If not, move on.
Your success in the organization is completely dependent on how well you manage your relationship with your boss. Your boss has the codes to unlock doors that will remain closed if you fail to nurture this relationship.
You may be thinking that you are just as vital to your boss’s success as she is to yours and that is somewhat true. Your boss is indeed less likely to achieve her goals without your support. However, your boss probably has other direct reports she can rely on, while you most likely have only one boss. The sooner you recognize that you’re the one that will have to adapt, the better off you will be. Decoding your boss is one skill you will continue to fine-tune throughout your career.
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