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In just about every workplace, people assume managers manage and workers do the grunt work. But in the real world, it’s not that simple. For many people, progressing in your career is about knowing how to work the system and manage the boss.

That was actually a point made many years ago one of the world’s most revered and often quoted management thinkers, Peter Drucker in his classic book The Practice of Management.

“You don’t have to like or admire your boss, nor do you have to hate him. You do have to manage him, however, so that he becomes your resource for achievement, accomplishment and personal success.”

As Drucker says, managing the boss is your responsibility, no one else’s. And it doesn’t really matter whether they’re a good boss or bad, they are in a position to help you launch your career.

Two other good bits of advice from Drucker. First, no one likes surprises so keep the boss in the loop. And secondly, you might think they’re stupid but there is no harm over-estimating their ability.

Watch the manager’s style

If they are a reader, give them reports in writing. If they are not, talk to them instead and give them verbal briefings.

Handle disagreements with care

To ensure the falling out isn’t career limiting, check your own feelings. What buttons is the boss pushing? Are you getting impatient? Some self-awareness goes a long way. You might suggest taking a break and revisiting it later. Usually what happens there is that when you come back, you have both given it some thought and you discover you’re both more or less heading in the same direction. The relationship has changed, for the better.

Watch your timing

If you’re unhappy about something, choose the right time to speak up. That means paying close attention to what’s happening with your boss. If they’re under pressure or feeling frazzled, that conversation is not going to go anywhere.

Take feedback

Handle criticism without getting emotional. Remember, it’s not personal. Take it on board in a way that your boss will only have to ask you to do something once so they know you can be relied upon.

Try and see the world from their perspective

That’s important because it means you can stay three steps ahead and anticipate their needs, complementing their flaws with your strengths. If they have terrific ideas but disorganised, you can keep everything together. If they’re a visionary but drive everyone crazy because they’re vague, you should be the one communicating everything clearly.

Managing upwards is not sucking up

This is very important. The worst thing you can do is try to manage their expectations, tell them what you think they want to hear and try to get too chummy. Don’t forget that your boss probably got to where they are by playing the right political games. It’s likely they will see right through you.

In the end, remember this, it’s a mutually dependent relationship. Your boss is only one-half of the relationship, you’re the other half. You have to know all about your own personal style and be able to work together. 

Written by Ilana Rajch - Communications Manager @ Locomote

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