Internal company investigations consistently reveal that most employees resign or leave due to a poor relationship with their immediate supervisor. In other words, people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. Most new managers and supervisors come into their roles because they have demonstrated technical expertise in their industry or field. They rarely begin their managerial careers with the experience, training, and support they need to manage others effectively.

I’m certainly not alone in working through some memorably bad bumps throughout my career. In fact, it was quite cathartic to describe them all in writing:

  • The boss who bit me in the neck hard enough to draw blood
  • The boss who drove me home from work going 90 mph down the freeway in his corvette
  • The boss who stood up and heatedly contradicted me (wrongly) during a company policy training session I was giving to 40 supervisors
  • The boss who breastfed her baby while doing my performance appraisal
  • The boss who always took his wife’s calls during meetings while I listened
  • The boss who had another employee secretly call my clients to find out anything she could use to fire me (couldn’t find anything)
  • The boss who had the legs of the guest chairs in his office trimmed several inches short, allowing him to tower over anyone sitting across from him.
  • Here are some strategies on how to manage your boss well, manage that all-important relationship, and keep your job (or at least stand up for the next job):

    1. Know your boss’s job preferences and expectations.

    Do you like weekly meetings? Written reports? Email or face-to-face meetings? Find out and respect their preferences.

    2. Regularly express your intention to help your boss succeed.

    Find hundreds of different ways to say, “If you’re successful, I’m successful.”

    3. Tell your boss how you prefer to be handled.

    Try using phrases like “I work better if…” or “It really works for me when you…”.

    4. Ask your boss for advice on organization policy.

    Before that big meeting with your boss’s colleague, ask him for advice on landmines or hidden agendas.

    5. Set limits and stick to them.

    Be clear about what you will and will not do. For example, I told the boss who took the phone calls that I knew I wanted him to be productive and that he could use those ten minutes to get the job done for him. When he took a phone call, he politely got me up, walked out of the meeting, and went back to work. Before long, he broke the habit (at least when he met me).

    6. Keep your commitments to your bosses and to others.

    No matter how annoying your boss may be, his follow-up and reliability will serve to reinforce your reputation in the organization.

    7. Never make your boss look bad in front of his colleagues.

    Although it can be difficult to keep your mouth shut, avoid the temptation to contradict him in front of others, especially colleagues at your level in the organization (at least if you want to keep your job a little longer). After listening to your boss speak, if one of his co-workers directly asks you, “What do you think?” you may have to demur with a humble, “I’d like to discuss this with my boss to make sure I have the facts right.” Helping your boss save face is a useful political skill.

    8. Do not gossip with your boss about other employees.

    Even if your boss wants to involve you in gossiping about other members of your team, don’t play the game. A surprised and evasive “Really? I wouldn’t have imagined that from her” is enough. I’ve also used an “Oh dear, I think she may have said/done the same thing at some point.”

    What I am suggesting is that you focus on making your working relationship with your boss worthwhile. Someone promoted him to the role of his boss. Whether it’s because they’re highly skilled, married into the business family, or just happened to be in the right place at the right time, the bottom line is that you’re not the boss, they are. After all, you can always start your own business once you’ve gained the experience you need. It worked for me.

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