Recently, I found a story in a Reddit post from the ITManagers subreddit that I can relate to. The post described a manager struggling to manage up effectively. He worked under a boss who was very familiar with all the aspects of their systems and technology. However, this boss had a tendency to want to get involved in everything, even areas where he was no longer the expert.
The boss would spend time trying to micromanage issues that could be handled by other team members. He was reluctant to hand off control of legacy systems, even when it was clear they needed to be replaced with more modern solutions.
This micromanaging caused problems for the manager and the rest of the team. The boss’s time was wasted digging into low-level details or fighting fires when he should have been focused on more strategic priorities. His controlling nature also slowed down the pace of change, as he was reluctant to let go of outdated systems that he had originally built.
The manager who wrote the post recognized that this behavior was problematic but felt helpless to change the situation. He wanted to implement necessary improvements and updates but found it extremely difficult to change his boss’s entrenched habits. The boss’s resistance to giving up control was a huge problem.
Despite his best efforts, the manager struggled to steer the relationship in a more productive direction. This conflict left him feeling nothing but frustrated.
Earn Trust To Help Your Boss Let Go
This story is quite typical for engineering managers joining a new team. It shows the challenges of managing up when a boss is resistant to change and overextended, which is a result of being afraid to hand over the responsibility. The situation could be improved if the manager had enough credibility and the boss trusted that the manager only had the boss’s best interests in mind.
If you just joined the team, you have very low credibility for quite some time, and your boss will likely be anxious to let things go. The good news is you can build credibility over time by exceeding the expectations your boss has for you. And as he becomes more comfortable trusting you, he’ll be much more willing to handle the responsibility.
Ask About The Expectations Early On
No one enjoys those awkward “getting to know you” conversations when you start working with a new boss. But diving into expectations early on can make a huge difference down the road.
It would be good to take the lead and suggest you and your manager invest some time upfront to better understand each other. Keep it casual and friendly — this isn’t meant to feel forced.
First, align on how you both like to communicate. If your boss prefers quick Slack check-ins while you’re a detailed email person, it would be wise to adjust to your boss’s communication style — you two can agree to meet in the middle later. Don’t let mismatches in work styles turn into a needless irritation.
Get a sense of how much guidance your boss expects to provide. Maybe he needs to sign off on every decision, or perhaps he’s happy to let you take the reins day-to-day from the very beginning. It’s okay to just ask — every reasonable manager will thank you for clarifying this.
Address the tricky topics head-on. If your boss is very direct and you prefer a conflict-averse approach, talk it through early. You don’t have to become best friends, but understanding each other is crucial.
Agree on expectations for giving feedback, checking in on progress, and escalating when needed. Define some loose rules so you both know what to expect. Clarity upfront is key.
How Your Boss’s Performance is Measured
Get a sense of what metrics or projects your manager focuses on this year. Ask how his own boss evaluates performance. If there’s a specific revenue goal or an OKR, you will likely need to focus on it in your work, too.
Ask what else is on his mind. Understanding broader will help you identify useful ways to provide support. If your manager seems overwhelmed (and most likely he is), offer to ease the burden where possible so he can focus on the important things.
Knowing your manager’s challenges helps you work as allies, not adversaries. By understanding his world, you can structure the communication to align with their priorities and support their success.
How Your Boss Measures Performance
Talk about specific qualities that make people stand for your boss. Does he love independent self-starters or people who are collaborating heavily? Does he want to be looped into every detail? See what kind of communication he values most. Does he expect frequent status updates, or he’s fine if no news is good news? Get a vision of excellence you can work towards.
Pay attention to subtle cues about pet peeves that drive him crazy. If he rolls his eyes talking about disorganized people, take note to be extra prepared. The better you understand your manager’s buttons and levers, the easier it is to showcase your strengths in a way tailored to impress them and build trust.
Highlight Your Work And Impact
It’s critical to showcase your value to your boss. Schedule regular check-ins to provide updates. Treat it like a progress report on goals and projects. But make it a conversation, too — remember to ask for feedback. If your manager is hands-off, take the initiative to share updates unprompted. A common mistake is to assume he has time to track your progress.
When sharing updates, tie your work back to strategic goals that your boss is focused on. Show you’re helping move the needle and working in your boss’s best interest. Make sure to highlight your team’s achievements too. Showcase how your leadership enables others’ success.
Offer to keep a document tracking your major activities and wins throughout the year so that there are tangible artifacts to reference when it comes time to argue about your performance. By consistently highlighting your impact in a measurable way, you help your boss see your actual value, which builds credibility and trust.
Help Your Boss Ease The Burden
Managing up well takes work, but the rewards are worth it. Approach the relationship as a partnership, not a dictatorship, where you’re trying to become a successor of an old dictator. With intention and empathy, you can build an environment where you both thrive.
Start out on the right foot. Make sure your boss sees the value you deliver by regularly showcasing your contributions. Tie your work back to goals he cares about. Help make him look good. Build your trust and credibility.
With mutual understanding and effort, you can steer toward a place where you are seen as someone your boss can depend on. And there’s no better relief to an overwhelmed and overextended manager like your boss than to finally rely on someone in a big way. Which is the exact sentiment you are looking for.
Originally published on Medium.com