How to manage your manager: the main concepts
“My manager sucks. How do I get them to manage me better?”
People ask me this question all the time. The words differ for each person but the concept is the same. Probably every client I’ve coached, no matter what issue they started with, also wanted to work on improving their situation with their manager.
Having coached enough on it, I’m putting the main concepts here. If I see demand I’ll make a book of it. When the book “How to manage your manager” debuts as a best-seller, you can tell people you saw the first post on the topic.
How to manage your manager: the main concepts
This issue is common. You aren’t alone.
“Why would they do that?!?!”: People ask this question rhetorically, implying no one reasonable would do it. Thinking someone is insane or at least not reasonable may make you feel better in the moment, but it removes your ability to lead and motivate them.
People join good projects and leave bad management: Most of us face managers we don’t like. If you leave every job with a manager you don’t like, you’ll never work at a place long enough to grow and your resume will be ten pages long.
The least effective tools to manage with are tools of authority like carrots of promotions, raises, corner offices, and so on, and sticks like threats of firing, demotions, and so on. They are ineffective because if someone wants to do the work for their internal motivation, external tools will undermine that motivation and discourage them. If they don’t want to do the work, the tools won’t motivate them to do it. They’ll motivate them to get the external reward, undermine your authority to get it, and polarize them against you. They may not be able to do those things, but you’ll motivate them to want to.
You can manage people above you, elsewhere in the organizational hierarchy, or outside it if you don’t rely on tools of authority.
You can manage but not lead through authority. If you want to lead, you have to jettison using authority. You can use it to manage them after you finished the leadership part of your interaction with them. Think of well-known historical figures in leadership positions who relied mainly on authority. Do you want to act like them? Think of leaders you want to emulate? Did they lead through authority or something else?
You lead more effectively without authority-based tools if you connect with your followers’ existing motivations and passions. If you don’t connect with their passions, they have more important issues than yours, which they will prioritize over yours.
Put your manager’s interests first if you want to motivate them. People are motivated by what’s in their heads and hearts, not by what’s in yours. People’s motivations motivate them, not yours.
Your manager’s job is not to make your job enjoyable. Nor to develop you, make you more money, get you promoted, make your job fulfilling, or anything like that. If you get a manager that does things you value, you got lucky.
It’s your responsibility to know and get what you want. Hoping for them, feeling entitled to them, or anything else is wishful thinking that won’t help you get what you want.
Understanding your manager’s motivation is the key to motivating them. Their motivations come from their emotions and beliefs. Learning emotional awareness and skills will help you lead.
If you don’t like your manager, trying to understand them may make you feel uncomfortable. I don’t know any way around this discomfort, but I’ve found it an inevitable part of the path to empathy, which is an inevitable part of the path to engagement and effective leadership.
Understanding your manager may lead you to like them. The skill may lead you to be able to like all future managers too. If you dislike your manager, the thought of liking them may cause mental discomfort, but the more people you like, the better your life.
Understanding your manager may lead them to like you. Or at least respect you and open themselves to learning from you how you would prefer they manage you. I call this “managing your manager” or “leading your leader.”
Prerequisites: You can’t lead anyone this way. You need at least a certain amount of time and attention from your manager, otherwise you can’t communicate enough. Or you have to make getting that time and attention your first goal.
What works for people above you works for people elsewhere in the hierarchy and outside it. This material is as important for entrepreneurs and salespeople. For that matter it’s as useful for spouses, parents, children, boyfriends, girlfriends, and people in relationships of any kind.
The next concepts and steps are what to do, which I’ve written about elsewhere. I recommend continuing with “How to make someone feel understood: the Confirmation Cycle.”
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