How To Manage Your Boss When Your Boss Keeps Changing
Managing your boss, and “managing up” in general, is an important skill to master if you want to get the respect you deserve, position yourself for promotion, protect your team, or simply get the job done in the most effective way. It’s all part of that crucial area that I call “working with people”.
But what if you’re in an organization where you find you have to break in a different boss every year (or less), and change is a constant? And what if you end up reporting to more than one person, including someone you’re not working with closely?
While these are challenging situations indeed, here are a few strategies to consider.
Put it in writing
When your boss doesn't see everything you do, and there’s a lack of continuity due to high turnover in supervisors, it might be a good idea to start doing a written update for your boss.
Keep it succinct and write it from the perspective of “what's important to them” while also getting across all the contributions you and your team are making. Think about whether you need the same thing for other senior stakeholders who have reasons to care about, or are affected by, what you do.
Putting things in writing makes it easier to remind everyone (including yourself) of what’s been achieved and what people have committed to. It also makes it easier to brief yet another new person in your reporting line.
Keep in touch
See if you can find a way to develop a closer working relationship with your boss (or bosses). The update should help as it can be a weekly or monthly touch point.
Some other ways to keep in touch and on their radar could be to request a regular catch up, take him or her for a coffee, or make it your business to stop by their office on the way to another meeting.
If you’re in different locations, see if you can do the virtual version of a catch up using Skype, Zoom, or some other video conferencing tool. If you have a visual or document to share and feel ambitious, you can figure out how to do a screen share and run through your update that way.
And when you do that, it's useful to come up with your idea(s) on how to improve the business results as well as asking about your boss' priorities and the overall strategic direction they have for the group.
Whatever route you choose to take, keep it concise and to-the-point. You’re usually better off having shorter but more frequent sessions that delivers value to your boss, rather than a lengthy marathon session once a year. And keep in mind how your boss likes to receive information – do they love PowerPoint slide decks, a casual conversation, or something in between?
Invite your boss to visit your group or join your team meeting
Especially when your boss is new, this would give your boss insight into what your group does. It would also give your team visibility with your boss, elevate your position with your team, and improve your relationship with your boss.
While it's reasonable to think that your seniors would reach out to you, in most organizations this does not happen. People are busy, they're worried about their own career position, and maybe they're just not that good at leading and managing others.
That's why it is up to each of us to do the reaching out and role model the behavior for our teams. And, by the way, our teams are counting on us to do just that.
Build your personal brand
Your personal brand is what you stand for – the package of character traits and capabilities that make you who you are, expressed in a way that others can understand right away.
The beauty of developing your personal brand is that it is completely portable. It belongs to you, and travels with you no matter how many changes there may be in your chain of command.
Especially when there is a great deal of uncertainty and change in your workplace or industry sector, it makes sense to get clear on that brand – the one that is your own, and not that of the organization. It can provide a beacon to orient you when everything around you is shifting. It helps you to stay true to yourself when there are distractions and pressures that threaten to knock you off of your game.
Can you articulate who you are, the unique strengths you bring, your vision for what your part of the organization could be?
Are your actions and behaviors consistent with the way you want to be seen and the reputation you’d like to earn?
How would you articulate your value proposition to the team, the unit, and frankly to any organization that’s lucky enough to have you working for them?
Those are just some of the questions to consider as you identify the elements of your own personal brand. And having a strong personal brand can provide a platform for you to stand on in an environment of change and uncertainty.
And speaking of your personal brand, you won’t want to miss my upcoming live interview with personal branding expert, Leonard Kim.
Leonard will be sharing specific steps you can take to develop your most powerful personal brand so you can be recognized and rewarded for the value you bring… no matter who your bosses are.
Find out more and sign up for my free webinar here.
So when you find yourself in a shifting environment, needing to manage a boss or set of bosses, these four strategies can put you in a stronger position. Above all, don’t get discouraged. Just do your best.
And who knows, you may find there’s opportunity in the midst of the changes.
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment below on the challenges you’ve faced in managing up when there’s a “revolving door” at the levels above you.
I cannot figure out my boss. She is sometimes very pleasant to me, praises my contributions and other times is downright hostile to my innovation ideas, which is ironic because our unit and institution has put an emphasis on innovation and has been recognized for innovation. When she is hostile to me, often it is in early morning emails. I suspect she wakes up, reviews her work emails on her smartphone and feels she needs to respond right away, when really she should wait until she is in a better frame of mind, can research my idea better or is at the office. I asked her what her priorities for our unit were recently, but I haven’t heard back from her yet. I keep trying to build a positive relationship with her and talk to her regularly, but these emails and some other things she has said to me over the past year are very discouraging.