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Learning to manage your manager

Learning to manage your manager

Learning to manage upwards as well as downwards is a skill that will stand you in good stead for your future. You needn’t be doomed to spend your working hours blindly obeying seemingly incomprehensible orders or trying to anticipate the whims of a fickle boss. Learning to anticipate what your boss is expecting of you can be the key to a satisfying and engaging career.

A large part of your happiness and progression in your working life will be dictated by your relationship with your boss. Knowing what they expect of you will allow you to exceed these expectations; and, knowing how they think will open the door to producing work with which they will be consistently impressed. The first stage in learning to manage your manager is working out what kind of manager your boss is — you can then work out how to deal with them and help your career at the same time.

The absent manager

A manager who is too ‘hands-off’ can be just as frustrating as one who is constantly looking over your shoulder. The biggest issue here is that the lack of direction leaves you with no firm idea of what they expect of you. This can lead to a lack of motivation and the quality of your work will suffer.

Solution: Without regular interaction from your boss, you will have to become your own manager. Work hard on your self-motivation and if you’re unsure how to handle a task, then push your manager for more detailed direction or find it elsewhere.


Managers who want control over every detail of your work can be very frustrating to deal with and leave you with a lack of pride in your work when every decision or task is controlled and scrutinised.

Solution: Try to see tasks from the manager’s point of view; have you given them a reason to stand over you more than usual? If so, pay closer attention to detail and try to get a good idea of what they expect of you. Suggest a timeframe for reporting back to them; it might just give them the confidence to let go a little.

Autocratic managers 

This is a manager who tells you to do a task, rather than discussing it with you; and, will often be higher up the management chain. It will take a lot to make them trust you enough to make any real business decisions.

Solution: Earn their trust by keeping them informed of any developments, even to the extent of becoming a liaison between them and your team. Autocratic managers love information, so keep them updated on good news and, if there is bad news, then go to them with some solutions to the problem.

The ‘seagull’

A phrase coined by leadership expert Ken Blanchard, the seagull manager will “fly in, make a lot of noise, dump on everyone, then fly out.” You may not see much of these managers on a day-to-day basis, but you’ll know about it when you do.

Solution: In order to deal with this manager, you have to be prepared. Make sure that you and your team are aware of key projects, including where you are with them and any results you have already seen. Your success with this manager will depend on you having a cool head and being prepared.

Headless chickens 

Over-stressed, over-worked people can

occasionally start to lose their grip on things and chaos ensues, leaving you not knowing which way to jump. One minute, they might ask you to do an important task with little to no brief, then the next they’re micro-managing a seemingly insignificant job.

Solution: This behaviour is typically down to stress and the best thing you can do is try to make life a bit easier for your manager, and thus yourself. Anticipate tasks and problems before they arise, ask if you can take on responsibility for a project and try to be as proactive as you can to diminish the stress.


People who delegate tasks and are neither micro-managing you nor completely absent are not as difficult to manage as other types of managers. The only problem can be when this kind of manager takes credit for work that is yours; which happens rarely, but it can happen!

Solution: One way to deal with this is to keep your best ideas until a team meeting; or, keep a paper trail of emails about the task you’re working on, such as regular updates to them. Since your boss is the person directly responsible for your day-to-day working life, the worst thing you can do is go behind their back. Sometimes you’ll just have to let it go and learn from the experience.

Managing your manager: what you can do

At the end of the day, managing your manager is really just a question of how you manage yourself. If you can work on your self-motivation, organisation, productivity and how you deal with issues within your control, it will only be a matter of time before this is noticed and appreciated.

•          Manage their expectations. Every boss likes to be kept in the loop – after all, their job is making sure you do your job. When your manager gives you tasks to do, keep them up to date with progress and your expected timeframes. This will not only reassure your manager that you have things in hand, but it will also help you out if things begin to fall behind schedule.

•          Communicate. A lot of problems between employers and employees come from a lack of communication and that works both ways. If you can keep your manager in the loop on issues and prove to them that you're good at your job, they will trust you with more responsibility and your career will become more rewarding.

•          Be proactive. Most bosses appreciate an employee who is willing to go the extra mile and anticipate things that need doing without being asked to. Try not to bother your boss by constantly asking questions about the little things. The less you bother your boss with small problems, the more they’ll trust you to get the job done. If you have a problem, try to come up with a solution and if a decision needs to be made, come up with the options.