Why Managing Your Manager Is a Career Superpower

In my last job, I had the best manager ever. 

They took actions to support me: sharing context and helpful info, making connections across the organization and solving problems – not by micromanaging but by negotiating mutual wins.

Ten years prior, I had the best manager ever, too.

This one also took actions to support me. They stood up for me when there was conflict with a more senior person. They advocated for stretch assignments bolstering my career.  They fostered an interactive, mutually supportive work environment.

Two great managers, two totally different experiences.

And for me to be effective – and gain the full benefit of their support – I had to behave differently.

For manager #1, I’d prepare for our 1×1 with a a short prioritized list (sent in advance) and the phrase “brief is bright” mentally tattooed on my forehead. For each topic, I’d give a few sentences of context and state if it was for information, input, or a decision. Sometimes, their attention would wander if I talked too long, and finishing ahead of schedule was always a win.

For manager #2, I’d also prepare a list and send it along. They’d always start the meeting by asking me how I was doing, and we’d share something from our non-work lives. ( I still remember when their dog got sprayed by a skunk and I suggested giving it a tomato juice bath). This manager liked context and details, and would frequently interject with relevant commentary. I always made sure to cover my most important topics first in case we ran out of time.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but part of what made them each great managers for me was my ability to collaborate and capitalize on their strengths.  I was managing my manager.

In the working world, you’ll always have a manager. (Even CEO’s have board members or venture partners, right?)

And yet, when did you learn how to work with your manager?

How can something so critical be so often left to chance?

Take a few minutes to reflect on your relationship with your manager, and what is within your control to help them be more effective – and help you better.

Here are some ideas to get started:

1. See their world

Almost by definition, your manager’s context is different from yours.  Imagine you had their job. What would be most pressing? Most critical? If you aren’t sure, you can ask them questions like “What is the biggest challenge on your plate now?”

2. Match communication styles

The manager / managee 1×1 is the perfect “petri dish” to experiment with your working relationship.  If you don’t feel like you are getting what you want out of the interaction, try a change:  make a list, use a visual, ask an open ended question….Notice their response and if it matches what you intended.

3. Don’t make them guess

Even great managers aren’t mind readers, and most will appreciate it when you directly ask for something you want.  I always did, when I was a manager, because it made it so much easier to advocate for the person.

We’ve barely scratched the surface on this important topic. For now, please reflect on:

What challenge are you currently facing with your manager?

What have you tried that has or hasn’t been effective?

And please let me know your thoughts. I answer all comments and emails.

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