This guest post is by Bruce Tulgan, author of “It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss” and founder of RainmakerThinking, a management training firm.

The vast majority of employees in the workplace today are not getting enough direction and support from their bosses, research conducted by my firm suggests.

“Undermanagement” is very bad for the bottom line of any organization, but our research shows that it is also very bad for employees. Undermanaged employees typically earn less and have less flexibility in their work conditions.

What can employees do if they are being undermanaged? After all, they cannot exactly force their managers to manage them. Can employees turn the tables and start managing their bosses? If so, then how?

Employees need practical tactics that work in the real world. And they need to avoid falling into a few common traps:

  • Dismissing your boss as incompetent or a bully. This approach but fails to acknowledge that unless an employee has been managing his boss closely, then he doesn’t really know if he is dealing with an incompetent manager or a bully.
  • Catering to your boss so as to follow her “up the ladder.” This approach is stuck in the outmoded view that supervisory relationships are simple, fixed, long-term and hierarchical. Most supervisory relationships today are often complex, shifting, short-term and transactional, so employees need to be prepared to adapt to the many bosses they are likely to have over time.
  • Manipulating the boss to meet your personal needs. Playing the boss to squeeze out as much benefit for one’s self as one possibly can in exchange for the least effort on the employee’s own part is self-serving, deceptive, and dishonorable. When employees constantly take advantage of the boss, they quickly find themselves in dead-end relationships.
  • “Partnering” with your boss. This approach fails to deal with the importance of the power differential in a “boss-employee” relationship. A boss is a boss because he or she has authority, influence, and control of resources that directly affect the employee.

Our research shows that to get the guidance and direction they need, employees must do a great deal of slow, steady, methodical work to build build and maintain an ongoing dialogue about their work with every boss. That is, employees need to get really good at managing their bosses.

Here are four basics that every employee absolutely must take responsibility for getting from your boss:

  • Clearly spelled out and reasonable expectations, including specific guidelines and a concrete timetable.
  • The skills, tools, and resources necessary to meet those expectations or an acknowledgement that you are being asked to meet those expectations without them.
  • Accurate and honest feedback about your performance, as well as course-correcting direction when necessary.
  • Fair recognition and rewards in exchange for your performance.

Image credit, iofoto, via iStock

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4 responses to “How to manage your boss the right way”

  1. Ann Sabo says:

    Somehow I thought I was the Manager! In truth after we hired HRDT <a href="http:// (” target=”_blank”> <a href="http://(” target=”_blank”>( to administer pre-hire assessments and post-hire coaching programs, they carefully suggested that some of the turnover we were experiencing might be reduced if I did a brief check on my approach to the job. They administered and facilitated something called the "Leadership Model." I found it very helpful in learning to manage sensitive situations and making "complex" decisions.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by SBWorkforce, Tricia Folliero. Tricia Folliero said: How to manage your boss the right way | SmartBlog on Workforce via @SBWorkforce […]

  3. RD1 says:

    Stay current. Often the pace of change is almost a daily occurence. Find out strategic and short-term goals and identify your efforts with those goals and objectives. If current activity does not match check with management if they wish to continue to spend time and money that does provide strategic or tactical goals. This will idenitfy you as vested in the organization and help you keep your management current as same. This is not sucking up, it is being relevent.

  4. Scott Asai says:

    If you want to ever be promoted (if you work under someone) you better manage your relationship with your boss. We live in a hierarchical world so power is unevenly distributed. It's not about manipulation. It's about building alliances. If your boss sees something in you that he/she likes, you're going to be considered for a promotion. Communicate, work hard and voluteer.