The importance of the relationship you build with your boss cannot be overstated. No one can do more to advance or hinder your career than he can. Regardless of your boss’s management style, good or bad, hands-off approach or micro-manager, you can still learn from him. And learning is always a good thing.
Keep in mind that when I use the word “boss” here, although I am primarily referring to the person
you report directly to, in many ways much of this information will apply to your higher-level superiors as well -- your boss's boss, his boss, etc...
What's the most important thing you can do to please your boss? Well, probably perform really really well, and finish all the tasks assigned to you or your group in record time. But, to get your relationship off on the right foot, from the first time you meet your boss, you need to start...
Learning His Style
Thankfully, most bosses are all about results, and that’s a welcome trait. As the competent manager you are, you should be able to wow him with your ability to get actual work accomplished by your team. But everyone has some degree of sensitivity towards how you handle the relationship from your end. Improperly done, you can set the relationship up for disaster, regardless of how well you actually deliver results. Adjusting to your boss’s operation and interaction requirements is vital to your survival.
In your initial interactions with your boss, begin to take note of what kind of communication styles he enjoys, and what styles seem to turn him off. Some guys are very detail oriented, and they enjoy hearing all those juicy details. Others want the executive summary. Still others don’t want to know anything about a topic unless it requires action on their part. Don’t mistake that attitude for disinterest in your activities. Take it as a sign of trust that you can handle things and that you’ll alert him when his time is really needed.
Whichever category he falls into, it doesn’t make him a “good” or “bad” boss – it indicates his preferred communication style.
How can you tell how much detail your boss needs? Start with the summary, then begin going into more detail. Watch for the eyes glazing over, the attention shift to whatever’s going on outside the window, or the sudden interest in email or cell phone. It doesn’t take long to zero in on his preferred level of detail. Once you think you understand what he needs, in future briefings just go to that level of detail and stop. If he wants more information, he’ll ask. If he does that consistently, you can probably assume that he generally desires a bit more, and you can adjust your style to fit.
When you have communications of a written nature, such as a report, you need to play to multiple levels since it will probably be “read” by a variety of folks. The reason I placed the word “read” in quotes is because many people who will need to read it – won’t. At most, they will skim it. Therefore, it’s important to include an “Executive Summary” section at the top that details the key elements of the report in one paragraph – which some also probably won’t read. Sad, but true.
Next, learn how much independence he wishes for you to have. Again, some guys are going to want to sign off on much more than others will. If you are starting from a position of trust, he may be perfectly happy to let you fly on your own unless you feel you need assistance. It is vital to stay close to whatever level of independence he wishes for you to have and not stray much higher or lower than that point. If you are coming to him for approvals way more than he thinks necessary, he’s going to think you’re overly burdensome and incapable of independent thought. If you seize far more independence than he wishes, he’s going to think you are a loner and maybe a bit out of control. Stick close to the level he wants and you will, over time, earn additional independence.
In the next few issues of this blog, a half-dozen or so additional ways to get on, and stay on, your boss's good side.