One relationship people rarely think about “managing” is the one they have with their boss. After all, your boss is the “manager”, so it’s their job to manage the relationship and make sure it’s good, right?
Wrong. Actually, managing your relationship with your boss should be one of your biggest priorities at work. And when you get a new boss – like when you’ve been promoted – managing this relationship effectively from the outset is one of your biggest opportunities to improve your career trajectory and future opportunities.
Your relationship with your boss is undoubtedly one of the most important in ensuring you have a successful career. It actually deserves more “management” and attention from you than perhaps any other relationship you’ll have at work. After all, your boss is one of the people with the most influence over the future of your career.
So it’s time to step away from the notion that being a leader is about managing the people under you—it is equally important to manage relationships with the people above you. This means your boss and your boss’ boss.
When you get promoted, one of the first things you have to do is get acclimated to a new boss and new expectations.
You want to begin managing these relationships immediately so that you can make sure you are setting yourself up on a successful course.
The relationship-management you do with your leaders will have a different dynamic than managing employees (since in this situation, *you* are the employee) here are a few of the tools to steer your relationship in a positive direction, no matter who your new boss may be.
Set up a meeting with your (new) boss
The sooner that you can familiarize yourself with your boss and their management style, the more quickly you can succeed within that framework. Plus, setting up a meeting right away will show that you are prioritizing them, your relationship with them, and that you are interested in learning and focusing on the things they need from you to be successful.
Extend an invitation to your boss for a lunch or coffee meeting. The same rules that you’d use for a one-on-one with anyone important:
Be courteous when scheduling.
Suggest several time slots on various days so they can find something that works for them. You can also try suggesting locations, especially if you have a place where you know there won’t be inconvenient waits or long walks to get there.
Show up on time and be prepared.
Have a list of questions prepared (use the handy worksheet that comes with this chapter to help you formulate those!) and know what you want to get out of this meeting so you aren’t wasting your time or your boss’. Do some research on your boss ahead of time so that you can ask specific questions about their career and management. If you’re struggling, here are some questions you can use as a launching point:
- What is their background?
- Their goals? Personally and professionally?
- What are their biggest priorities for your team and the company this month? This quarter? This year?
Focus on them and listen actively.
Maintain eye contact, don’t fidget, be conscious of your body language, and be engaged! Remember, this is their first 1:1 with you too, so they are learning just as much about you as you are about them. Make a first good impression.
Even if you’re at a lunch or coffee meeting, it’s a good idea to bring along a notebook so you can jot down important information. If you are discussing team goals, it’s a good idea to record main points of what your boss says so that you can be sure to remember it, and check back with them later if there are things you have specific questions about.
One of the things you should aim to get out of this one-on-one is a sense of your boss’ expectations. It is important to have a frank conversation about topics like:
- What does your boss expect from you in this role?
- What does it mean to be successful in this new role?
- How will success be measured?
- What will be critical to your success in this role?
- Do you have the resources, tools, and skills you’ll need to succeed? If not, how can you acquire what you need to be successful in this role?
Tell your boss what *your* goals and aspirations. Make sure you are being specific and detailed about what you want to accomplish; otherwise, your boss won’t know how to help you or what kinds of opportunities will be most meaningful to you.
Remember, this is your first impression and first shot at getting on your boss’ radar. Make it count! You don’t want to appear like a suck up or like you’re wasting their time, so if you come prepared and eager to learn about your boss, you won’t seem like you’re just doing this as a formality or as a way to get on their good side. Show that you are really there to learn and do the best job possible.
Going up the chain of command
It can also be helpful to have a one-on-one with your boss’ boss. Meeting your immediate supervisor or boss is helpful in seeing the trees—what is going on at your level and how you contribute to that. But your boss’ boss can help you zoom out and see the forest—which is going to be important for future promotions and career advancement.
Set up a meeting with your boss’ boss (though do be conscious that if they are a VP or high-level executive, they may not prioritize meeting with you – so be willing to make an attempt and back off for a while if necessary) and aim to learn the following:
- What does your boss’ boss see at the goals and mission of the team or organization?
- How do *you* and your team fit into that bigger picture?
- What does the company or team value and how can you provide that?
During both of these meetings, take careful, detailed notes! They are going to be important in formulating a long term plan.
Recalibrate your expectations accordingly
If your meeting with your boss and boss’ boss went well, you should have a wealth of information that now needs to be synthesized.
You came into this role with your own goals, expectations, and definition of success. And while you’ll be able to retain much of your own vision, the notes you took during your one-on-ones should help you recalibrate your goals, expectations, and definition of success to incorporate your boss and their boss’ input, which helps you to see how your goals, expectations, and vision fit into the big picture of the company.
Take the time soon after your meetings to synthesize what you learned and turn it into an action plan.
Don’t skip this step! Having a notebook full of ideas, goals, and resources to start with is great, but it is just a start. Now is your opportunity to turn that knowledge into action that will help you make the biggest possible impact in your first few weeks and months on the job.
To start making use of your meetings, you should:
Synthesize that information.
Dwindle down your notes to the most important aspects of each category! Make notes of the main ideas and themes that ran throughout. What things did they repeat? Did they note anything as particularly important?
Turn the information into actions.
Now, consider, how do you translate each piece of information into actions, behaviors, and personal qualities? Come up with a list of actions that will help you succeed, behaviors you will need to exhibit to succeed and qualities you’d like to cultivate.
Create a timeline.
When will you tackle each action item on your list? Which ones are priorities, and which can wait until later. Which ones will have the greatest impact? Those are good to do first, when you are still establishing yourself. Hold yourself accountable to a timeline so you make sure these things actually get implemented.
The graphs and lists you create should be stored somewhere accessible. You’ll want to re-visit it every month (or even more often, in your first few weeks) to re-define your list based on your actual experience in your new role.
You can also use it as a check-in for yourself from the perspective of your boss, since once you actually dive into the work, you want to make sure you are upholding their goals and priorities. Are you meeting their expectations for you? How can you improve? Most importantly, are you meeting your definition of success? Fulfilling your goals? Where do you think they would tell you to improve?
You can always set up another one-on-one with your boss or boss’ boss as you get adjusted to your new role. They are there to help you! And the more you check in with them and stay up to date about their expectations, the better chance you’ll have at forming a strong relationship.
We’ve already stressed the importance of strong relationships in success but the way to create that strong relationship is to ensure the relationship is mutually beneficial. Are you giving your boss what they need and expect from you? Are they doing the same in return?
Send status mails to your boss (especially in the early days, but most bosses always appreciate getting status updates even if you’ve worked together for years!) so they know what you are working on from week to week. Be transparent about your work. Your status mail should be easily skimmable and sent on a regular schedule – most people do Fridays, since you can send a report of everything from that week. Make a list of tasks accomplished, things left undone, and anything you had questions or problems with.
This makes is super easy for them to stay in touch with your process, see your successes, and help you with problems before they become major issues.
Early on, set a recurring 1:1 meeting with your boss too – maybe once a week or every other week – just to do a quick update and continue building your relationship. Bring good questions to ask and make the most of your time with this person. They are in a role that you could have someday, so learn from them.
Stay focused on your goals
Through each step of adjusting to this promotion, remember to focus on where you’re going. It’s great that you’ve gotten here, but where are you going next? And, how are you getting there?
Staying focused on these answers will help you to stay on course with the things you want to accomplish and create actionable steps towards achieving your goals. It is easier to network, form important relationships, and maintain solid communication when you remember what it is all working towards. Managing your relationships and keeping priorities at top of mind are the things that will be critical to your success in your new role.