It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss
In organizations across all industries and at all levels of organizations, there is a shocking and profound epidemic of what I call “undermanagement”—the opposite of micromanagement. The vast majority of supervisory relationships between employees and their bosses lack the day-to-day engagement necessary to consistently maintain the very basics of management: clear expectations; necessary resources; real performance tracking; and fair credit and reward. In fact, most employees report that they feel disengaged from their immediate boss(es); that two-way communication is sorely deficient; and they rarely get the daily guidance, resources, feedback, and reward they need.
You may not be aware of undermanagement in your workplace. But look around you. I bet undermanagement is costing you every day. It robs you of having more positive experiences in the workplace and prevents you from reaching greater success. Undermanagement gets in the way of your learning and development, makes it harder for you to optimize relationships, and diminishes your opportunities for new tasks, responsibilities, and projects. Undermanagement very likely causes you to earn less than you should and prevents you from gaining more flexibility in your schedule and other work conditions.
So, who is responsible for this undermanagement epidemic? After all, isn’t it the manager’s job to manage? Shouldn’t the bosses be taking charge? Yes, I believe managing is a sacred responsibility. If there’s a problem, the boss is the solution. If you are the boss, you are the one everyone is counting on.
Hands-Off Management Doesn’t Work
Unfortunately, too many leaders, managers, and supervisors are failing to lead, manage, and supervise. They simply do not take charge on a day-to-day basis. They fail to spell out expectations every step of the way, ensure necessary resources are in place, track performance, correct failure, and reward success. They don’t know how to, they don’t want to, or they are just afraid to.
Most managers are under a tremendous amount of pressure. They typically move into supervisory positions because they are very good at something, but not usually because they are especially good at managing people. Once promoted, most new managers receive very little in the way of effective management training. And the legacy of leadership in most organizations great and small is still “hands-off”: “Here’s the mission. Figure it out. Wait for us to notice you. We’ll let you know if you do something wrong, and the system will reward you the same as everyone else.”
The pendulum of management thinking, books, and training also has swung in exactly the same, wrong direction, toward hands-off management. Popular books have naively insisted that employees do their best work when they are free to manage themselves. According to this “false empowerment” approach, employees should “own” their work and be free to make their own decisions. Managers are merely facilitators; they should not tell employees how to do their jobs, but rather let them come up with their own methods. Make employees feel good inside and results will take care of themselves.
But let’s face it. You know very well that somebody is in charge and you will be held accountable. You do not have the “power” to do things your own way, you are not free to ignore tasks you don’t like, you are not free to do as you please. You can only make your own decisions within defined guidelines and parameters that are determined by others according to the strict logic of the enterprise at hand.
When your manager gives you responsibility without sufficient direction and support, that is not empowering you. That is downright negligent. Unfortunately, most managers have bought this false-empowerment philosophy and don’t take a stronger hand when it comes to managing— they don’t even perform the basic tasks of managing. Most managers undermanage.
Whatever is behind your bosses’ undermanagement tendencies, and despite the lack of management support you receive, you are still expected to meet today’s higher expectations at the job. You are under more pressure. You are expected to work longer, harder, smarter, faster, and better. There’s no room for down time, waste, or inefficiency. You must learn and use new technologies, processes, and skills, all the while adjusting to ongoing organizational changes. You receive less guidance and support; work in smaller teams with greater requirements; and have less time to rest, recuperate, and prepare. And you want to know, “Boss, what do you want from me?”
Under these circumstances, you are the only one you can control. You can control your role and conduct in each of these relationships. You can control how you manage and how you get what you need from these relationships. You have no choice: If you want to survive, succeed, and prosper, you have to get really good at managing your bosses.
4 Basics to Get from the Boss
No matter who your boss may be on any given day, no matter what his or her style and preferences may be, there are four basics you must take responsibility for getting from that boss:
- Clearly spelled out and reasonable expectations, including specific guidelines and a concrete timetable.
- The skills, tools, and resources necessary to meet those expectations or an acknowledgement that you are being asked to meet those expectations without them.
- Accurate and honest feedback about your performance, as well as course-correcting direction when necessary.
- The fair quid pro quo— recognition and rewards— in exchange for your performance.
Be the employee who says to every boss, “Great news, I’m going to take responsibility for my part of this management relationship! I know you are busy. I know you are under a lot of pressure. I’m going to help you by getting a bunch of work done very well, very fast, all day long. I’m going to work with you to make sure I understand exactly what you expect of me. On every task, I’m going to break big deadlines into smaller, concrete performance benchmarks. I’m going to learn standard operating procedures and use checklists. I’m going to keep track of everything I’m doing and exactly how I’m doing it. I’m going to help you monitor, measure, and document my performance every step of the way. I’m going to solve problems as soon as they occur and, if I come to you for your help, you’ll know I really need you. I’m going to learn and grow and be able to take on more and more responsibility. Count on me. With your help, I’m going to be really valuable to you!”
It’s okay to manage your boss. You just need to get really good at it!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org; followed on Twitter @BruceTulgan; or via his Website, www.rainmakerthinking.com.