There are so many misconceptions and myths about networking and mentoring. One of the most ignored and neglected networking opportunities is with your boss. Many people mistakenly think that relationship development is aimed at only new, external prospects, and higher ups outside of your work environment. Those of you who have followed my principles and posts know that the key to effective networking is to focus on your existing network. People that you know and are comfortable with are the keys to your success. And your boss is one of them. Bob Beaudine in his book The Power of Who calls this "The Who". The people in your inner circle. We tend to neglect people we know, or think we know. And one of the most neglected and overlooked targets of networking is your immediate supervisor. I can hear you loud and clear! "That relationship is not going to yield the sort of benefits I need!" "I need new inspiration and new ideas." Perhaps. Perhaps not. Nevertheless, your current boss can determine your fate, your greater influence as an employee and undoubtedly your future path. And if you have invested a great deal of time and energy in understanding your boss and his or her perspective, background and connections, then you are the exception. My experience tells me you just haven't. By the way, this applies double if you do NOT have a great relationship with your manager!
Somehow you got this boss. You had something to do with it when you got hired or promoted or transferred. You picked this employer and supposedly evaluated the organization's capacity to nurture your special and unique gifts. You must have conducted some due diligence on your hiring manager, right? It is well understood that the professional development culture, your specific boss' desire and capacity to grow talent AND your chemistry with this person is worth 20%+ of your comp. But hopefully you already knew that. If not, make a pledge to do it in your next transition, especially if you are making a career shift. Really young green inexperienced people do not assess the quality of their supervisor and get distracted by the reputation of the employer (I want to work for Disney for example) or the initial salary and often a not so helpful boss. Your ticket to a sustainable and growth filled career trajectory are placed in the hands of your immediate supervisor and his/her boss.
Marshall Goldsmith in his book Mojo recounts many stories and case studies about these challenges. Here is an excerpt from the book where Goldsmith gives his advice:
Every decision in the world is made by the person who has the power to make that decision–not the "right" person, or the "smartest" person, or the "most qualified" person, and in most cases this is not you. If you influence this decision maker, you can make a positive difference. If you do not influence this person you will certainly not make a positive difference. Make peace with this. You will have a better life, help your organization in positive ways and be happier.
Goldsmith is referring to your supervisor! And the power and choice you have to influence your boss and manage up!
We have all dealt with difficult and important "customers". Quirks, attitudes, and personalities that we had to endure to get the job done. Just holding our nose, doing the minimum, or avoiding contact would be career suicide. You had to use your full complement of powers and talents to make it work with grace and with professionalism. And many times you would actually enjoy it, the process of the relationship. Yes, there are the jerks that we have encountered. But most people, once you get to know them are decent well-intentioned, and often very interesting. Your boss is your most important "customer". He/she needs TLC but also expects great work and service.
Don't respond like a sitcom husband whose brow beaten wife wants his attention, "I am here everyday ain't I, I do what you ask—that's how I express my love."
The point here is turning your impressive research, charm, attention and relationship development skills on your boss. Not to suck up and kiss butt. But to manage up, influence up and challenge up. How do you develop a more trusting relationship with your boss? How do you generate a more conducive environment to have conversations about your future, the future of the department and of the entire organization? How can you help your boss succeed and add real value to the department and the organization's goals?
Some boss basics:
- Do some basic beyond the bio research on your boss? Do you know his/her interests, family, charities, and ambitions?
- 360 degree network with other colleagues—How are others relating? What works for them?
- Make additional to time to meet to share thoughts and compare notes outside of your regular meeting as often as you can.
- Get to know your boss' asst. How else will you know when he/she is in a good mood or how to get on the calendar?
Here are some tips on managing up:
First of all bosses need and want to be managed. It may come from on high, from their assistant and or from their subordinates (that's you!). They need help to do everything that's expected of them, which takes your insane job duties to another level of craziness. In this light here are a few recommendations that have worked on me:
- Meet and exceed your job duties: This gives you the opportunity to be influential. A slacker with great ideas is still a slacker.
- Prepare solutions to problems: Always have an way to solve a problem, otherwise you join the whiner's chorus line.
- Submit new ideas: New ideas are great, but writing them down shows you are serious and your written ideas will be treated as such.
- Give honest feedback: Be a source of accurate feedback on presentations, speeches, e-mail announcements from your boss. Few employees provide advice and counsel on how to improve these leadership initiatives and therefore things don't evolve.
- Don't gossip or feed the rumormill: Be smart about what you say about your boss, your employer, and your colleagues.
- Step up and jump in: Be among the first to volunteer for new opportunities.
- Make your boss' world simpler and easier: Advise on systems, processes, and methods to make his/her work life more efficient. Young tech savvy employees have an advantage here!
Do some or all of these things and your influence will rise and your ability to effect change in your workplace and in your career will also increase. Managing up gives you much more to say about your achievements in your job. Building more trust in your relationships, especially with your boss can be very rewarding.
Thanks for reading. John