Friday, February 23, 2024

Business relationships are two-way streets

by Harvey MackaySpecial to
| April 18, 2010 9:00 PM

My new favorite pastime, talking about jobs, has reinforced my belief that people work for bosses as much as they work for companies. By that I mean that given a good boss in a good company, employees are far less likely to leave for greener pastures.

Because your primary relationship at work is often with your manager, you must develop a mutual trust and respect in order to move up the ladder. You should do this to even stay where you are, considering the current job market. If you ignore this fact, regardless of your strengths and abilities, you will probably not reach the next rung.

Employees are not powerless in this relationship. In fact, they have significantly more control than most realize. How do you go about managing your boss?

For starters, don't be afraid of your boss. Be respectful but not scared. You are both important to the company, and a good boss knows that. You need each other to get the work done.

Next, do your job as well as you can. Bosses who have tangible, measurable evidence of your value to the company can point to the successes generated by their department. If you contribute to the supervisor's success, you will position yourself as a team player and a dependable, valuable employee.

Pay attention to company politics. Take note of the power structure within the company and observe the dynamics. If you understand how your boss manages relationships with superiors, peers and subordinates, you will be able to identify your role in helping your boss be successful.

Make the boss look good. Do your job well, and find ways to let others know that your manager has excelled in leading your team. Don't get so wrapped up in taking credit for a project that you alienate those with whom you'll be working in the future. I'm not talking about massaging inflated egos: I'm reminding you that you rarely go it alone.

Sometimes you will disagree with management. When it becomes necessary to confront your boss, the way you choose to approach the issue can be as important as the issue itself. You can criticize your supervisor without harming an otherwise good relationship if you follow these suggestions:

• Pick your battles wisely. Criticize for the right reasons, not just to make yourself look good. Otherwise your motives will quickly become transparent. Criticism should come only in response to behavior that affects your work or your organization. Refrain from attacking the person. Keep things on a professional level.

• Timing is everything. You didn't ask for the keys to the car when your parents were in a bad mood. Choose a time when the boss is most likely to be receptive to your feedback. You already know whether the boss is a morning person or is less cheerful after a management meeting. Take note of the supervisor's situation and the general company environment. Don't ambush an already embattled boss. Your points will get lost in the confusion.

• Suggest solutions. Complaints and criticisms get a better reception if you offer ideas to fix the problem. Help your boss see how the situation could improve with a different approach, and how the company can benefit.

• Frame the criticism in terms of the boss' principles. Make your point by acknowledging the supervisor's general positive behavior or the company manual and rules. Let the boss know you have been paying attention to his or her memos, guidelines and example. You're not trying to catch the boss doing something wrong so, trust me, an accusatory tone will backfire.

• Only as a last resort, go over their head. When a situation is getting out of hand, and the boss cannot be reasoned with, your only choice may be to take your concerns higher up. You will run the risk of being portrayed as a tattletale or a malcontent. Legitimate concerns are actions that waste money or time; issues that affect quality, safety or the company's reputation; and things that are obviously illegal or unethical.

How you relate to your manager is up to you. Just remember, you will always have a boss. I've owned my own company for many decades, and even though I am in charge, I have bosses to answer to. They're called customers, and everyone who works here knows who the real boss is!

Mackay's Moral: You are the boss of how you deal with your boss.

Harvey Mackay is the author of The New York Times' No. 1 best seller "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive." He can be reached through his Web site,, by e-mailing or by writing him at MackayMitchell Envelope Co., 2100 Elm St. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414.