10 Myths About Managing Your Boss

These myths prevent employees at all levels from taking more responsibility for their relationships with managers.

I ask people in the workplace every single day why they don’t take a stronger hand when it comes to managing their bosses. They almost always give me the same reasons. These 10 myths prevent employees at all levels from taking more responsibility for their relationships with managers.

Myth #1: If you are a high-performer, then your boss shouldn’t tell you how to do your job.

No matter how good you may be at your job, everybody needs guidance, direction, and support in order to succeed. You don’t want to waste your valuable time and energy doing the wrong things, or doing the right things the wrong way. Right? Even if you know more about the specific task, responsibility, or project than your boss does, you are not operating in a vacuum.

You need to make sure your work fits with your overall company’s mission. You need to have articulated goals and the guidelines and parameters for your tasks and responsibilities spelled out. You need to be given concrete deadlines, clear timelines, and reasonable performance benchmarks to meet. And your boss is the person who needs to communicate these requirements to you and to make sure you stay on track. That’s the only way to become and remain a high-performer.

Myth #2: In order to be creative at work, you need to be left alone to do things your own way.

If you really want to be creative at work, the first thing you need to know is exactly what is and what is not up to you. So much of what gets done at work is simply not up to you. You need to know the requirements of every task, responsibility, or project before you can even think about being creative. Even if you are in a creative position, only when you know what is actually up to you have you uncovered the small space in which you can be creative.

Myth #3: If someone else is getting special treatment, then you should, too.

If someone else is getting special treatment, then figure out exactly what that person did to earn the special treatment and what exactly you need to do to earn the special treatment you want. If your coworkers are receiving rewards you are not getting, take that as a big reality check. What you need is a fair and accurate assessment of your performance so you can continually improve and, thereby, earn more of the rewards you want.

Myth #4: The path to success is catering to your boss’ style and preferences.

It is true that you need to align yourself as best you can with what “works” for each of your bosses. You should try to tune in to each boss’s preferences, but you cannot afford to compromise the basic elements you need in order to succeed. If your boss prefers that you “take a stab” at a project without giving you clear expectations, then you had better probe a little.

Myth #5: “Making friends” with your boss is smart workplace politics.

The smartest workplace politics is to keep your work relationships focused on the work.

Build authentic relationships with your bosses by developing genuine rapport, regardless of whether you are friends. How? By talking about the work on a regular basis. That is what the two of you have in common that is authentic. That is the kind of rapport that makes the work go better. That is the kind of rapport that won’t collapse as soon as the work gets serious.

Myth #6: Hiding from mistakes and problems is a good way to avoid trouble.

The best way to avoid trouble is to immediately come clean about the details of any mistakes or problems as they occur, as part of your regular ongoing one-on-one dialogue about the work with your boss. When you deal with mistakes and problems as they occur, you are much more likely to solve them while they are still small and manageable, before they get out of control.

Myth #7: No news is good news, but being “coached” on your performance is bad news.

No news may not be bad, but it definitely does you no good. Being coached on your performance, on the other hand, is an opportunity to improve—and that is always good news.

Obviously, some bosses have more natural talent than others when it comes to coaching. So keep your eyes peeled and your ears open for opportunities to be coached by your bosses, or anyone who is an objective, encouraging voice with experience and wisdom to share. Don’t listen for those hollering, “Rah! Rah!” around your workplace. Don’t be fooled by contrived enthusiasm. Look for the real teachers among your bosses and soak up their teachings. Assure the boss that you very much welcome candid feedback in detail, both positive and corrective. Try to turn every one-on-one conversation with your boss into a coaching session.

Myth #8: If your boss doesn’t like to read paperwork, you don’t need to keep track of your performance in writing.

You owe it to yourself and the organization to keep track of everything you do in writing. Most managers monitor employee performance only incidentally—when they happen to observe the employee working; if they are presented with the employee’s work product; if there is a big win; or if there is a notable problem. They rarely document employee performance unless they are required to do so, leaving no written track record other than those bottom-line reports that tell so little about the day-to-day actions of each employee. Whether or not your boss keeps track of your day-to-day performance in writing, you should.

Myth #9: If you are not a “people person,” then you’ll have a hard time getting ahead in the workplace.

Some people are unusually charismatic, observant, receptive, quick-witted, articulate, engaging, energetic, and likeable. The key to getting ahead in today’s workplace and the wider free market for talent is being really good at consistently delivering valuable contributions at a swift, steady pace, while constantly adapting to changing circumstances. That takes more than relationship mojo.

Whether or not you are a “people person,” learn proven techniques for self-management and boss management, and practice those techniques diligently until they become skills and then habits. Don’t try to be someone you are not. Be yourself. Be genuine. Relax. Then follow the proven techniques and practice, practice, practice.

Myth #10: Some bosses are just too busy to meet with you.

No matter how busy your boss may be, your boss does not have time not to meet with you on a regular basis.

Make your one-on-one time with every boss brief, straightforward, efficient, and all about the work. But make sure you get that regular one-on-one time with every boss you answer to directly at any given time. Push your boss to put the management time where it belongs—up front before anything goes right, wrong, or average—and make sure you get the basic elements you need to succeed. If you make sure the time every boss spends with you is effective and pays off in productivity, bosses are going to want to give you that time. You will gain a reputation for making good use of management time.

Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Tulgan is the best-selling author of numerous books, including “Not Everyone Gets a Trophy” (revised and updated, 2016), “Bridging the Soft Skills Gap” (2015), “The 27 Challenges Managers Face” (2014), and “It’s Okay to be the Boss” (revised and updated, 2014). He has written for The New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training magazine, and the Huffington Post. Tulgan can be reached by e-mail at brucet@rainmakerthinking.com; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website, www.rainmakerthinking.com.


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