How to Manage Your Manager

How to Manage Your Manager image DATE: May 4, 2022

Too often good employees and good leaders have good intentions, yet they find themselves at a disconnect. So what can you do when you find you need to manage your manager?

One of our viewers shared this scenario and asked this question…

“I’m a very goal-driven person, and I have things I want to accomplish in my career. I want to know exactly what I’m doing wrong or where I need to improve so that I can move up and grow. My manager comes around often and offers feedback. But the only support my manager offers is by asking, ‘How are things going? How can I help you?’ How can I get the kind of feedback from my manager I need?”

In this situation, we have a goal-driven employee with a supportive manager or leader with good intentions. Yet the employee is conflicted.

On the surface, the manager’s questions may seem helpful. The supervisor might even be thinking, “this employee is doing such a great job, they don’t have to do anymore to impress me, I just want to support them.”

Is It Time to Manage Your Manager?

But it’s not necessarily impressive or satisfying to the employee when something different is wanted or needed. Specifically, this employee wants to know any areas of low performance, and where improvements can be made that will accelerate growth and advancement.

So how can managers and employees unearth the information needed to continue elevating motivation and performance?

Start with Empathy

Today, if you Googled, “what are the top leadership skills needed after the pandemic,” you would see study after study saying that empathy is one of the top leadership skills needed.

Empathy, as a leadership skill, is not necessarily compassion. By definition, empathy is feeling as the other person feels. And when you feel as the person feels, you can think more as they think.

Using empathy, a manager or leader can work backward to connect the dots… “if my employee is feeling this way, are my actions lending support and service or causing conflict and a disconnect?”

In our leadership development training programs, we often talk about getting to know followers. Employees can be exceptionally frustrated if you’re only focused on superficially knowing them. And that is especially true of performance-driven employees.

Employees, it may become incumbent upon you to manage your manager. So let’s explore some practical steps an employee can take if they are struggling with a similar situation.

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Build a Connection

In our management training programs, on our live show, The Man & The Millennial, and when we’re consulting and coaching clients, we often discuss the importance of building a connection. Usually, we’re talking to managers and leaders about this. But sometimes employees have to take the initiative to build that connection to accomplish what they want. We can call it the “manage your manager” approach.

That is not meant to be manipulative. It simply means managers and leaders don’t always understand what is needed.

When this happens, don’t stop communicating. Frustration can often result in an attitude like, “my boss doesn’t understand me, so I’m done.” That’s an emotional response to a circumstance and the last thing you need to do is to forego or cut off communication.

An employee may need to share their need with the manager. If an employee takes the first step, manages up, and the outcome is positive, that can be a win-win situation.

So how is that done?

Ask Job-Related Questions

What questions can an employee ask to get better insights from a well-meaning leader who isn’t asking the right things?

Every job has three primary components to it. Try asking questions about these job aspects and framing them in a way to support the goals of not only yourself as the employee, but also the manager, and the organization. That’s a win-win-win strategy!

  1. Technical Question — What should I know that I don’t know yet?
  2. Performance Question — What should I be able to do that I can’t do yet?
  3. People Question — What can I do to be a better team player?

The original question was “how can I get the kind of feedback from my manager I need?” The bottom line is an ownership mindset. Take ownership of the situation by:

  1. Using empathy to better understand your manager
  2. Building a stronger connection with your leader and
  3. Asking questions that go deeper.

When you do that, you’ll be many steps closer to achieving your individual goals, the goals of your manager, and helping your organization achieve its mission.

Win. Win. Win!

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About The Author:

Phillip Van Hooser, CSP, CPAE is committed to helping organizations transform their business outcomes by building engaged employee relationships. He is an award-winning keynote speaker and author on engaged leadership and communication. His most recent book is “Earning The Right To Be Heard," a primer for creating greater influence and opportunities. Connect with Phil on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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