Article

NextGen Know-How: How to Become Indispensable to Your Boss

young female employee meeting with smiling Black female manager
Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC Photo
Executive Coach/Consultant
Envision Excellence

7 minutes

Follow these 12 tips to support your supervisor while effectively leading your own team.

I’ve worked for many managers in my career, and each of them had their own leadership style and set of expectations. Some were supportive and available; others were distant and hands-off. As a leader, it’s just as important to learn how to work effectively with your manager or supervisor as it is to inspire and engage your own team of employees.

As you move up in an organization and report to a new manager, it can be tricky to figure out just what makes your boss tick. Each manager is different, and you may be reporting to a higher-level boss like a director or executive who has different expectations than you are accustomed to. So, what sets the excellent leader apart from the mediocre leader in the eyes of the boss? Based on my coaching and consulting work with executives as well as my own experience working for vice presidents and CEOs, I’ve compiled some of the most important tips for being a highly successful employee and gaining the respect of your manager.

Below are 12 tips for becoming indispensable to your boss:

1. Bring solutions, not problems. Your manager doesn’t have time to fix problems for you. When faced with a challenge or issue, brainstorm solutions on your own or with a peer. When approaching your manager about a sticky situation, provide your ideas for solutions and seek feedback from your manager. When you upward delegate to your manager, they don’t see you as capable of leading a team. Managers like to know you have thought through an issue before approaching them and that you are capable of solving problems independently.

2. Know your boss’s style. Not all managers are the same. Some like to be hands-on and involved, and others take a more distant approach. Knowing your manager’s style will allow you to work with them more effectively. If your boss likes to know the details about your functional area, agree on how you will provide the information. Do they like written updates, weekly meetings or some other form of communication? Seek to understand your manager and support them in any way you can. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. If your boss doesn’t naturally provide you with ongoing feedback, be proactive by setting up a meeting and asking what you can do to help them succeed.Always let your manager know that you seek to improve your own leadership so you can make their job easier.

3. Be the go-to person. Support your manager by volunteering to help with projects and taking some work off their plate. Be proactive and enthusiastic in offering your opinions and suggestions in meetings. Offer to take on duties that no one else will. You will quickly become indispensable to your boss and gain their respect and appreciation. In addition, you will deepen your skill set and broaden your responsibilities. When it comes time for a promotion, your manager will look to someone who is proactive and supportive.

4. Ask for feedback. Many managers don’t take the time to have formal coaching sessions or performance meetings with their employees. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need. Rather than wait for your manager to approach you with feedback, be proactive and seek it out yourself. Avoid broad questions like, “Can you give me some feedback?” or “How am I doing?” These questions can feel overwhelming, and if your manager already struggles to provide meaningful feedback, it’s easy for them to just say you’re doing fine (which isn’t very helpful). Ask more specific questions, such as, “What do you see as two of my strengths, and how can I leverage them?” or “What are two areas I can develop in? Are there one or two things I should stop doing that could be getting in the way of my success?” Narrowing the questions makes it easier for your manager to think more specifically about their feedback and feels easier to answer. You may also consider giving your manager time to think about the feedback rather than putting them on the spot.

5. Be succinct and clear. Bosses are busy juggling multiple projects and employees, and most don’t want the long backstory behind each situation or problem. When providing data to your manager, focus on facts and be concise. Hit the main points of your argument or synopsis and be clear. Not only does brevity convey that you know your stuff, but it also expresses your confidence and poise. Follow this rule in meetings as well. Get to the point and don’t waste anyone’s time.

6. Be responsible. Earn the reputation of delivering on promises and always meeting deadlines. If you need more time for a project, approach your manager ahead of time to explain the reasoning and negotiate a new deadline. If you make a mistake, take responsibility and share what you have learned from the situation. Bosses like to be in the loop; don’t cover up mistakes or wait for your manager to approach you on the day of a deadline. Being a leader means following through on commitments.

7. Be strategic. To be effective in your role, you must be knowledgeable in other areas of the organization in addition to your functional area. Managers are looking for well-rounded leaders who have an overall understanding of the business and can contribute in a strategic way. Be proactive in learning about the financials, operations and other areas of the organization so you can contribute on a more substantial level. Demonstrate that you consider the impact of decisions on other departments and the bottom line.

8. Anticipate needs. Don’t wait for your manager to assign tasks and duties. Managers love employees who anticipate needs and volunteer to take on projects. By volunteering to help your manager, you alleviate their stress and workload. For example, if you know your VP has a board meeting coming up, volunteer to pull the data for the reports together or help prepare their presentation. Write important departmental meetings on your calendar as a reminder to follow up with your manager to offer support. Go above and beyond your manager’s expectations.

9. Exhibit positivity. Bosses don’t want employees who are needy or habitually complain. Exhibit a positive, can-do attitude by approaching your work with drive and passion. Have a sense of humor and try to connect with your boss on a personal level. Everyone enjoys working with people who are pleasant and friendly. Avoid venting too much to your manager. It’s okay to ask for guidance or feedback about challenges, but regularly complaining only adds to their stress and sends the message that you can’t handle challenges on your own.

10. Be resourceful. Don’t run to your manager for every issue or challenge you have. Seek out your own answers and solve the problem yourself. Do research, ask a colleague for advice or brainstorm solutions. Your manager will see you as a true leader if you handle the day-to-day issues of your team on your own.

11. Be honest. Managers aren’t looking for employees who always agree with them. They are looking for honest feedback and suggestions that will make for better decisions. When your manager asks your opinion, help them see different perspectives so they can make an informed choice. Don’t hold back your thoughts and suggestions. It’s important to be respectful, but that doesn’t mean always agreeing. By offering different perspectives in a respectful manner, you send the message that you can think for yourself and be a true leader.

12. Ask for clarity. Managers want their employees to feel empowered to ask for clarity if they are uncertain about a project or task or need more direction. For example, if your manager assigns you a new project and you are already juggling three other projects, ask for clarity on what is the priority. For example, you might say, “It sounds like this project is important to you. I’m also working on projects A, B and C that need to be completed. What is the most important in your view?”

Laurie Maddalena, MBA, CSP, CPCC, is a certified executive coach, leadership consultant and founder of CUES Supplier member Envision Excellence LLC in the Washington, D.C., area. Her mission is to create exceptional cultures by teaching leaders how to be exceptional. Maddalena facilitates management and executive training programs and team-building sessions and speaks at leadership events. Prior to starting her business, she was an HR executive at a $450 million credit union. Contact her at 240.605.7940 or lmaddalena@envisionexcellence.net.

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