The fact is that bosses need cooperation, reliability, and honesty from their direct reports. Managers, for their part, rely on bosses for making connections with the rest of the company, for setting priorities, and for obtaining critical resources. If the relationship between you and your boss is rocky, then it is you who must begin to manage it. When you take the time to cultivate a productive working relationship—by understanding your boss’s strengths and weaknesses, priorities, and work style—everyone wins.

Recent studies suggest that effective managers take time and effort to manage not only relationships with their subordinates but also those with their bosses. These studies also show that this essential aspect of management is sometimes ignored by otherwise talented and aggressive managers. Indeed, some managers who actively and effectively supervise subordinates, products, markets, and technologies assume an almost passively reactive stance vis-à-vis their bosses. Such a stance almost always hurts them and their companies.

To many people, the phrase “managing your boss” may sound unusual or suspicious. Because of the traditional top-down emphasis in most organizations, it is not obvious why you need to manage relationships upward—unless, of course, you would do so for personal or political reasons. But we are not referring to political maneuvering. We are using the term to mean the process of consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss, and the company.

When we think of managing someone, we usually think of managing our team members or subordinates. We should bear in mind that subordinates are not solely dependent on their bosses, but that today’s complexity in the work place requires interdependence: the boss needs her team as well. Below are some tips on managing your Boss.

1. Making Decisions: If you do not want a ‘no’ or procrastination, give him/her a hand

Your boss has other subordinates, other decisions to make. Thus, her best bet, if she is pressed for a decision might be to say no. No, it is too risky; no, it is the wrong timing; no, it is off strategy, etc. Your Boss saying No does not mean it has to be no. Give suggestions if you think it can possibly be a yes!

2. Manage her time: You may represent only 1% of her problems, don’t make it as if it is 100%.

Yes, you have preoccupations, problems to solve and issues to tackle. However, while your time is entirely devoted to them, do not expect your boss’s time to be also. The more simple the problem or issue at hand is, the less time you should have her spend on it: prepare, summarize, and synthesize information and options. Do not confuse your more frequent problems with the most important ones.

3. Give Information; Not Data:  Turn grapes into wine

You are supposed to analyze the results, and not be the mailman who passes the thick document full of statistics to your boss. So be selective; be visual; group the data; bring out what is essential. Data overload creates stress, which in turn can create denial, rejection, and numbness. As a manager, you are paid to collect the grapes (data), and turn them into wine, i.e. useful information.

4. Problems: Don’t just come with problems, come also with solutions.

Good bosses hate two kinds of behavior. The courtesan who always comes to tell you how great you are and the pyromaniac/fireman who comes to tell you “There is a huge problem” and then says “but don’t worry, I will solve it!” There is also a third kind, the monkey transferor. She has a problem and she puts it on your shoulders, rather than bringing a solution or at least some options. Problems usually have several aspects. It is usually a gap between an objective and the result; there are options to close the gap; there is a choice of one option to be made; key tasks, dates, people and resources needed must be defined.


5. Assumptions: Do not assume she knows as much as you do, but assume she can understand; Educate her. Please help, you are the expert. You spend all of your time and that of your team on the issue. You live with data, pressure points and levers; your boss does not. She does not know more than you do.


  • ·         Harvard Business Review

Jacques Horovitz is Professor of Service Strategy, Service Marketing & Service Management at IMD, one of the world’s leading business schools.