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NextGen Magazine


Best Practices for Managing Your Manager

N. Sheree Saunders
Published Date:
May 12, 2015

HiResFed up with a supervisor? You’re not the only one. Within the past year, a handful of polls have highlighted just how much employees are dissatisfied with their higher-ups. That includes a survey of 1,000 U.S. employees by the research firm Kelton, in which just 38 percent said their managers had established an effective working relationship with them; a survey of some 2,000 adults by Harris Interactive Inc., in which one in five respondents gave his or her boss a negative grade; and a poll of more than 1 million workers by the venerable Gallup Inc., which determined that the primary reason why people quit their jobs is a bad boss.

Part of the problem, according to Robin Reshwan, founder of the career development and job placement firm Collegial Services, is that some managers aren’t, well, management material, no matter how skilled they may be in their area of expertise. “Sometimes, people end up in management positions based on the strength of their technical skills rather than people skills, because there’s a linear structure in the organization, or simply because there’s no one left to do the job,” she said.  But even if a manager does have top-notch people skills, there’s no guarantee that the road will be smooth. Your supervisor, for example, might be too distracted with the demands of his or her own job—or dealing with his or her own persnickety boss—to give you the kind of attention you’d like.  “Many managers are so busy that they don’t always stop and think, ‘how does so and so need me to manage her,’” she said.


Two of the most important questions an employee should ask are, “what is my manager trying to accomplish?” and the natural follow-up, “how can my role support that?” “This helps you to understand how your efforts align with your manager’s,” Reshwan explained, which is key for a few reasons. For one, you’ll have an easier time anticipating and wrapping your head around your superior’s day-to-day decisions. What’s more, since priorities often change, it will spare you from getting caught up in busy work that lands on your desk but isn’t mission critical.   

The good news: While you can’t necessarily change your manager’s behavior, you can adjust your own and make it easier for the boss to give you what you need to get ahead. “The employee who makes it easy for someone to give them direction or feedback is the employee who’s going to excel,” Reshwan said. She offers these tips for getting the most out of your interactions with your boss—and ensuring better outcomes for yourself. 


Reshwan noted that it’s a good idea to ask managers what issues they’d like you to come to them with and what questions they would rather you take to other members of the team. Not only will this help you to work more efficiently together, but you won’t have to feel like you’re bugging your boss unnecessarily. “It’s a good direct question to ask, even during the interview or when you’re first hired,” she said.


You’re the type who likes to have everything in writing (a smart move, according to Reshwan), but your boss typically spouts off orders on the fly. Or perhaps you prefer step-by-step direction, when your boss expects you to simply fill in the blanks. The solution? Use timely follow-up to get information delivered clearly and in a manner you can use. Reshwan suggests that you bring paper and a pen along whenever you walk into your supervisor’s office, so that you can jot down notes, and then send an email clarifying what tasks and deadlines were discussed, in a format that you find easy to make sense of (for example, a bulleted list of next steps). “You might say, ‘if I understood you correctly, you need me to one, two and three,’” Reshwan said. “Number things and put a time frame to it.” As a bonus, Reshwan added, this will also help your boss to see what he or she is actually asking of you, since, sometimes, managers give you an assignment without realizing how it fits in with the rest of your workload.