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Managing your Boss; Turning the Tables


When we think about relationships at work and people being their best, it’s easy to put the onus on managers. But if we care about our work being an engaging activity, our outcomes and being able to accelerate our career, we ALL need to take responsibility. Either that or we accept the fact that half of us in the UK will quit our job because of a poor relationship with our boss (Totaljobs, 2019).

Our relationship with the boss has a significant influence over our future success due to their role in the projects we get access to, our visibility within the company and our overall career trajectory. So, what is important for you? How willing are you to take the lead?


Listening to a podcast with Mary Abbajay being interviewed by Sara Holtz, I enjoyed her take on managing up. In other words, thinking about managing your boss to achieve better results for you, them and your organisation. Being able to adapt and align ourselves with our manager is great for our work now but also future leadership roles.

I know many people will ask why they should take the lead when it is the responsibility of the manager to nurture relationships and enable growth. But, as Mary explains, we can spend a lot of time in the blame model “Shoulda, coulda, woulda…” but it doesn’t achieve anything.


A 2018 study by CareerBuilder.com revealed that 58% of managers said they didn’t receive any management training. Most managers were promoted to their role because they were good at what they did and not necessarily at bringing out the best in the people around them. So, we should re-set our expectations. Or take some control ourselves.


Managing Up

Actually, the advice Mary gives is relevant for all relationships to thrive. It essentially boils down to self-awareness and awareness of others, two key aspects of emotional intelligence that we know accelerate success.

So, what sort of person is your boss? Many organisations use personality assessments, so use that, but if no such data is available, reflect on your boss’ behaviour. Are they an extrovert or introvert? If you’re not sure, think about whether they are quieter, relatively closed and like to figure things out before connecting. Or do they like to be visible, process externally (think out loud), share information openly and actively seek to engage face-to-face. There is no checklist so trust your intuition and most importantly, pay attention to how your boss interacts with you. For example, do you reach for your phone when their preference is for email? Do you like to ‘wing-it’ and work under pressure while they like to plan and allow plenty of time?


Work Styles

In reality, no one is one type of person all of the time, but we have traits that suggest we’re more one type than another. When we understand another person’s communication and work style, we can engage in a way that means they work at their best, we perform at our best and the organisation benefits.

Mary maintains that we fall into one of four categories yet despite the necessity to match others’ preferences,

“Only 30% of managers use more than one style”

Advancer – results driven, fast paced

Energizer – fast paced but also care about relationships, want to move with people

Harmonizer – a bit slower with more emphasis on relationships

Evaluators – task driven, efficient perfectionists, care about detail

As much as we’d like to change others to be more like us, the reality is we can only control ourselves and so we need to connect with their way of doing things. This might sound tricky, for example if we’re a slower-paced employee who puts more emphasis on our working relationships, working with a fast, results-driven manager. It all comes down to conversation.


Working out your Boss’ Drivers

There are a lot of clues you can gleam from your boss’ preferred style through their pace of work, view of the big picture vs detail, motivation to get a job done right or fast, fixing it on the way. But the real learning comes from asking questions about (1) your manager’s preferences for themselves and, (2) their preferences for you:

  1. How do you like to work? What are your communication preferences? What motivates you?
  2. What can I do more of, less of, differently for us to work best together?


This last question is important as it’s the only way we really find out how other people experience us. Without knowing what our work colleagues/ manager really thinks about us, we cannot understand the impact of our behaviour on them.

Asking these questions of your manager is likely to engage them in the enquiry being reciprocated. In other words, they find out from you what you need in order to thrive at work.


So, go and have a meeting with your manager and start the conversation. It can make all the difference to your engagement with work now and it will set you up to be a great leader in the future!


I help managers gain the insight and confidence they need to achieve the highest engagement for their teams, and I support people at all levels to be their best. Let us have a conversation about how I can help you.