Manage your manager

October 27, 2010

giant boss manage your boss Manage your managerIs your boss a micromanager? Is he or she the forgetful control freak who takes credit for everything you do? Are you in utter dismay about how to communicate with a person who just doesn’t like to listen? Is everything an “urgency” for your manager and, hence, for you?

I empathize.

I have been in those shoes and learned some valuable lessons along the way.

It’s never easy to manage up. You don’t have the authority to tell the person what to do. You’re certainly not being paid the big bucks to deal with the stress that comes with a situation like this. And you probably can’t have a heart-to-heart with this person about the problems they’re creating.

It’s a situation fraught with many missteps and ego trips, but it’s one you can prevent from spiraling out of control.

Here’s how:

Identify your manager’s strengths and weaknesses: The first thing you can do to help yourself is review your manager’s past work history and current work procedures. What does your manager do well? What is your manager not capable of doing? For example, your manager may be a pro at delegating, but may be a dudd when it comes to creating PowerPoints. Find out, as soon as you can, where the holes are and what makes your manager shine.

Identify how your strengths can complement your manager’s weaknesses: You know yourself best. Interviews aside, figure out what are your strengths in context of this job and how you can use them to help fill those holes in your manager’s toolbox. For example, your manager may be awful at prioritizing tasks he or she has delegated but you are a to-do list maniac. Use your strength to stay organized by sharing that list of priorities with your manager. It’ll inspire confidence in you as an employee and also show your manager the multitude of things you’re juggling at the same time, reducing the probability of your getting swamped with additional action items.

Communicate frequently and in a variety of ways: If your manager has a tendency to talk more than listen, make sure you send e-mail updates, schedule a 5-minute review session at the end of meetings where you present him or her with a list of things you need them to focus on, and learn to listen. It’s important that you let your manager get all the talking out of his or her system – the more your manager feels like he or she is actually being heard, the more the chances of your getting your two minutes in. Catalog as much as you can, so you have task outlines, deadlines, and deliverables in writing.

Hierarchy 217x300 Manage your managerBe the voice of reason: If you have the hyperactive ADD-type manager who reacts to everything as if the world were coming to an end, you have to be the calm one. And how you present that sense of Zen is important. Your relaxed body language and even-toned voice will do wonders in a closed-door meeting-room panic situation. Let the manager throw a fit. Then step in gently and focus on a solution. Talk about priorities and facts – it’ll help center the discussion on what is, not what could be. Focus on the facts and steer your manager toward a constructive discussion.

Don’t just rely on your work speaking for itself: With a manager who does nothing but tries to get credit for everything, resting on your laurels silently is never a good idea. You have to show your manager’s manager and your colleagues the value you bring to the table. Sometimes it means tooting your own horn. As uncomfortable as you may be doing this, it’s important that those more important in the hierarchy recognize your efforts and commend your hard work. It not only makes you look good, it comes back in a roundabout way as a compliment to your manager for hiring someone as efficient as you. Keep reminding your manager of what a good decision it was getting you on board. Let him or her have the credit for that.

Always be be on top of the game: Don’t wait for your manager to tell you about the next big thing going on in the industry. Find it yourself. Don’t rely on your manager to set goals for you – take initiative and tell him or her what you want to do and why you’re the best person to do it. Don’t sit on your chair waiting to be introduced to key stakeholders – seek opportunities where you can introduce yourself. Keep abreast of current developments within your company and discuss them with your manager. He or she will appreciate being kept in the loop and appear “intelligent” to his or her superiors. Don’t think of it in terms of giving away information and losing your spot in the sunshine. Think of it in terms of building trust – at the end of the day, if your manager can rely on you, you’ll have it easy.

Be assertive but not disrespectful: If your manager is an egoistical pompous shmuck, the last thing you wan to do is be rude and dismissive. You also don’t want to be walked all over. So, remember to be courteous (not just civil) but at the same time take a stand on things you need to be forceful about. Also, don’t badmouth your manager in front of his or her supervisors – you’ll lose a lot of respect in the team, not to mention a vengeful egoistical pompous schmuck on your back.

Don’t label your manager evil (unless he or she really is): As horrible as the experience can be, remember that your manager is only another human being full of faults. It’s amazing how much calm this acknowledgement can bring to your own professional life. I’m not advocating giving the person the benefit of the doubt in all situations, but just remember not be malicious without cause.

 Manage your manager

Recognize when it’s time to call quits: Even after you’ve given it all, been organized for your manager, made him or her look good, and been the master of patience and restraint if things aren’t looking up for you, then maybe it’s time to resign to the fact that people don’t change. Talk to your manager’s manager or your HR rep and show cataloged reports of the efforts you’ve put into managing your manager. Perhaps, you’ll get reassigned. If that doesn’t happen, keep a lookout for other job opportunities. Re-evaluate where you’re at in your career and what the best next steps will be. If all your job has been reduced to is managing your manager, it’s time to seek help or leave.

A simple Google search will reveal many more articles with tips. What I am interested in is what you’ve learned from personal experience.

Want to share?

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6 Responses to Manage your manager

  1. Shachi ThakkarNo Gravatar on October 27, 2010 at 9:31 am

    My current manager is a micro-manager. I had a lot of trouble dealing with him initially….but now I focus what he is good at (technically) and how I can learn from him. I ignore the day-to-day stuff and only have technical/growth discussions with him. Everyone who works for him (and even folks who don’t) share the same sentiment about him as me…so we vent out when we have to :) !

    “He is just another human being” is what I always tell myself when I walk out of work frustrated with him at times…and it does calm me down. He does have a good side to him, and has been nice to me on many occassions…its just that I have difficulty accepting his managerial style.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on October 27, 2010 at 11:01 pm

      It’s good, Shachi, to have a sense of “community” with others in the same boat as you and I really like your idea of taking the big picture view. Just because people have the title of manager doesn’t mean they are by default good at managing , but that’s the reality of cubeville…

  2. Vikram KarveNo Gravatar on October 27, 2010 at 10:05 am

    Nice tips – must use them when I encounter a micromanager

    • MansiNo Gravatar on October 27, 2010 at 10:59 pm

      Thanks, Vikram.

  3. Tanveer NaseerNo Gravatar on October 28, 2010 at 9:08 am

    Hi Mansi,

    You’ve done a great job putting together a practical list of tactics employees can use to deal with a micromanaging boss, if not also pointing out that choices exist in how to work under such circumstances; that we’re not so powerless as we may feel in these situations.

    I think it’s also helpful for employees to try and understand why their leader is a micro-manager in order to evaluate how effective these measures might be in their situation. In most cases, micro-managing is a reflection of a leader’s insecurity, of their doubts either of their own abilities or those of their team members. These types tend to be the hardest to work for, but your points about helping to make their jobs easier by compensating for their weaknesses (without obviously pointing them out as such) would be the best steps to take to slide out a bit from under their thumbs.

    The less-obvious type of micro-manager are those who were used to being the go-to person for solving problems or issues for their leaders and now being a leader themselves, haven’t let go of this approach. In these cases, it’s important that employees demonstrate to their leader that they too have the ability to be that go-to person that they can rely on to get things done, leaving their leader to focus on more broad-range issues beyond the day-to-day affairs.

    Kudos Mansi on putting together this list of doable options employees can implement to take on dealing with a micromanaging leader.

    • MansiNo Gravatar on October 28, 2010 at 3:30 pm

      Thank you, Tanveer. I really appreciate your taking the time to read through this list and adding your valuable input. I agree that employees should take the time to understand the psychology behind their manager’s micromanaging attitude, but most employees don’t think it worth their time and energy or even in terms of that assessment being something they should do to make their own lives easier. Thanks, again, for stopping by and sharing your insights.


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