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Developing Your Boss

Clint Maun, CSP

One area of concern that employees invariably want addressed is creating supportive relationships with their bosses. "How do I get my boss to be more supportive?" "How do I get him to take an active part in fostering a good relationship?" "How do I see to it that I'm creating a pleasurable atmosphere with the person I report to?" And then there's all that little "stuff" everyone wants from a boss: saying encouraging things, being helpful, staying off my case, letting me do my job, and on and on. It's not uncommon for people to think, "I could do a great job if it weren't for those fools I report to. If I could just take them out into the woods and leave them and let them find their way home later, I could get something done."

There is help. Know that you do, indeed, "have a great deal of influence, perhaps more than you realize, in creating a positive environment in which a good relationship can flourish" (Moore). Developing your boss, or "managing up" as it is often called, "is not political maneuvering or 'kissing up' . . . [but] a deliberate effort to bring understanding and cooperation to a relationship between individuals who often have different persepectives" (Zuber).

Creating a supportive relationship with your boss, like with every human relationship, is a developmental sequence. Many people want large swooping changes from their bosses-and they want it over night, or they want a new boss, or even want the old one they used to have. All change takes time and effort. But, keeping a few simple rules in mind will help you foster a positive and productive relationship with your boss.

Rule number one: Stop thinking that your boss is supposed to be perfect. Period.

Rule number two: Find small successes in the relationship with your boss, and then show your appreciation for them. If your boss suddenly gets off your case, doesn't send an irritating e-mail today, says something positive, stops by to say "Great job," you need to look him in the eye and say, "Thanks. That really makes a difference to me." Or phone back, saying, "I really appreciate what you did." Or reply with an e-mail: "When you show your support and appreciation, it makes me feel great." If you ignore the small successes, they go away. To keep building on the positive, recognize those small steps in the right direction and say thank you. "Your boss needs positive reinforcement as much as you do-perhaps more" (Zuber). Make sure he or she gets it, but keep it honest.

Rule number three: Turn negative interaction into coachable moments. This is the flip side of recognizing the small successes and thanking your boss for them. When something is out of bounds, spending time whining to other people about it, going home and dropping kicking Fluffy in frustration, sitting in the bar finishing off a bottle, or hoping through prayer that this all just goes away isn't going to fix anything. You need to take some kind of positive action. And the action is not to say something to the boss in the heat of anger. As always, that type of reaction only makes matters worse.

Calm down and get the timing is right. It's important "to know when constructive criticism will be best received.. . . [It is] not in public, and not when your boss is trying to meet a deadline" (Alexander). Find a time when you and your boss can speak one on one-riding to a meeting together, going out to lunch, or during a scheduled private conversation. You could say to him or her, "By the way, I need to tell you that the other day-I know you were under pressure with that project, but the way it was approached didn't help me much, and I'd like to ask if we could do that a little differently in the future." Then offer solutions and alternatives. Remember that "most supervisors expect staff to steer them. They hope for guidance" (Alexander). Don't let them waste time puzzling over what you do want them to do once you've let them know what you don't want.

Taking such an assertive stand can be productive in building that needed positive relationship. If you want to coach your boss, be willing to make use of coachable moments. And those coachable moments are not when you're angry or annoyed and blurt out something or, worse yet, don't say anything at all to your boss, but stuff it and then complain to everyone else. Don't rashly do "anything that gives . . . [your] boss reasons to distrust . . . [you], such as bad-mouthing him or her" (Moore). Talking about someone behind his or her back will never endear you to that person.

The relationship-building process is an on-going, everyday effort that brings changes over time, not over night. And once changes do occur, the process must continue or you will find yourself-and your boss-back at square one. Utilize those three essential steps that can help you develop your boss: 1) realize that no one-not even your boss-is supposed to be perfect; 2) say thank you for those baby-step recognitions; and 3) make use of coachable moments to let your boss know how you feel or what's on your mind. And one final reminder: know that developing your boss is something you can do.

Works Cited

Alexander, Amy. "Bend Your Boss." Business Report. July 22, 2003. Louisiana Business Inc. August 2004. http://www.businessreport.com/pub/21_23/aalexander/html

Moore, Diane. "Ways to Build Better Rapport With Your Boss." The Toronto Star. September 30, 2002. Bell Globemedia Publishing Inc. August 2004.
http://globeandmail.workopolis.com/ servlet/Content/torontostar/20020930/ boss? section=Tů

Zuber, Thomas J., MD, and Erika H. James, PhD. "Managing Your Boss." Family
Practice Mangement. June 2001. American Academy of Family Physicians.
August 2004. http://www.aafp.org/fpm/20010600/33mana.html