The Most Important Relationship of Your Career

gears-1666498_640There’s no shortage of advice for managers out there. Scores of books have been written about managing employees, leading great service, and working with outside entities. It’s easy to find articles, videos, and even live training events focused on these topics. But when it comes to working with your boss, what’s called “managing up,” there’s little help to be found. A few are blessed with a relationship where communication flows freely and minds seem to be in sync. Most have to stumble their way through, approaching each interaction with a mixture of anticipation and dread.

That’s a shame, because your relationship with your direct supervisor is probably the most important one of all. When someone is in a position to provide you with the access, resources, knowledge, and support necessary to be successful, it stands to reason that this would be a relationship worth cultivating. The times I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship with a boss have been the most productive and rewarding of my career. The better your priorities mesh with those of your boss, the smoother things go for both of you.[Tweet “The better your priorities mesh with those of your boss, the smoother things go for both of you.”]

Take a few minutes and think about your relationship with your current supervisor. Would you say its “great,” “ok,” or “barely existent?” More importantly, why do you think that is? As you ponder what’s working and not working with respect to this all-important partnership, here are a few more questions to consider.

  • How often do you and your boss communicate? Frequent communication is a sign of a healthy relationship. If you and your manager rarely speak, how can they possibly understand your needs? How can you understand theirs?
  • When you do speak, what form does the conversation take? Is it collaborative, encouraging, and meaningful? Or is it stiff, to-the-point, and conducted on the fly? If you and your manager never share a meal, laugh together, or discuss common non-work related interests, it may be time to bond. Personal, informal communication is another sign of a healthy relationship.
  • How much do you and your boss know about each other’s work projects, daily struggles, and career ambitions? What is your leader working on right now? What keeps them up at night? Understanding the issues that drive someone forward helps you frame your priorities in light of theirs. Seeing where their passions lie allows you to identify ways you can be of service.
  • How much do you trust each other to get things done? To do the right thing? Any relationship without trust is doomed to fail. Do you see your boss as someone who can be counted on? Do they see you this way? Without trust, there is no relationship.
  • If you had the opportunity to choose another boss, would you? Would they choose a different person to fill your position? Are you working for your boss, with them, or against them? Examine your own motives and behaviors before questioning theirs.

It can be easy to grumble and complain about someone who appears to be standing in the way of progress. Often, that someone is the boss. But it’s just as easy to forget that they too have a job to do. They have goals and expectations, competing interests vying for their attention, and obstacles they are working to overcome. As hard as it may be to believe, they are people too.

Forging meaningful relationships always requires two people. Both have to be willing to meet in the middle, share information, and work together. It’s true of personal relationships and it’s true in the workplace. The stronger the relationship, the more quickly and effectively work gets done. Put some effort into “managing up” and see how much easier both of your jobs can be.


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