On managing your manager

I wrote this as a comment to another friend but I wanted to save it here…

If I ever write a book on “managing your manager” it will probably include:

– Have good communication with your manager. Don’t be afraid to assign tasks to your manager if something is outside your control but affects how you do your job. More communication helps, if you are good at your job and comfortable talking about it — it only hurts if you are bad at your job and you’re trying to cover it up.

– The three levels of asking for help are:
1. I’m having a problem, and I’m doing X about it. Just wanted to let you know. You don’t have to do anything.
2. I’m having a problem, and I am not sure what to do. Can I ask your advice?
3. This problem seems to be out of my control, and I have tried different things with little effect. If you’re able to help I would appreciate it. If you see something I should be doing, definitely tell me.

– Turn micromanager against himself. If your manager constantly comes to ask for status, make sure that you have things ready to ask him when he comes. If there is something you need from someone else to get your next task done, wait until micromanager comes to check on you and then tell him that you need something from someone else (or from him). This will train your micromanager to stay away and let you do your thing. But, you also want to reinforce with positive rewards as well — if the manager has stayed away for a whole day or two, give them a status report saying what things are going well and what things you still need from others. Micromanager will start to trust you, and you can still use his micro-skills to get stuff from other people.

– For the most part, pretend your manager is skilled and effective. If you need to mention something, approach it like “I assume you’re aware of this but just in case, X is a problem”. If you do have a problem with your manager, talk about it as frankly as possible, in private, and then be all professionalism the rest of the time. Even if you don’t trust your manager, pretend like you do whenever possible.

— Corrolary- The more skilled and effective your manager appears (to his management) the better it will be for both of you. Know your manager’s job and strive to do things that make your manager look good. If someone outside the group comes to you with a problem, take your manager “into your confidence” and discuss what you think should be done. Ask your manager if you should reply to the outside person directly (and copy him) or if he wants to reply himself. Taking the initiative and knowing what your manager’s big problems are will pay off in trust and loyalty.

— If you’re going to go over your manager’s head on something, tread very very carefully. Make informal contact with your 2nd level manager, such as giving him an FYI on something on a day when your normal manager is out. If there are problems, at first say “There are some problems, but Boss and I are working together on them — don’t worry”. From there slowly work up to sharing more details, but keep the three levels of asking for help in mind. 1. Boss and I are working on it; 2. Boss and I are still working on it, just wanted to let you know in case anyone else asks you; and 3. I don’t think Boss and I are going to be able to address it ourselves, and I’d appreciate your advice.

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