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How to manage your manager
5 Tips: Improving your work life.
March 29, 2005: 4:38 PM EST
By Gerri Willis, CNN/Money contributing columnist

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - It's only Wednesday and you can't wait for the weekend. The boss is driving you crazy. You don't know if you can make it through the day without an outburst. You feel lost in the corporate maze. Abandoned by your boss. Out of control of your career. Or maybe he's breathing down your neck so often you could scream.

Sound all too familiar? You're not alone: 43 percent of workers say they do not feel valued by their employers, according to CareerBuilder.com. In today's five tips, learn how to manage your boss to make your career work for you.

1. Ask: what's the problem?

Get down to the nitty gritty. What exactly is it about your boss that drives you crazy? Is she a micromanager? According to Katherine Spencer Lee, the executive director of staffing firm, Robert Half Technology, this type of boss is controlling, overly involved, and needs to develop more confidence in you.

Your solution is to prove you're capable. Start asking for complete control over small tasks to prove you're able and keep asking for more.

Maybe your boss is a non-manager? You know: the kind that's indecisive, hesitant, and vague. You need to guide this type of boss. Instead of giving open-ended questions, offer answer choices. Be specific with your requests.

For example, "I'd like to meet with you at 9 am on Thursday to discuss the way we do Q-reports, I have some ideas about how we can become more efficient." When he is vague, ask for clarification.

If your boss is an unreasonable manager that overloads you with work, ask him what his priorities are and for options to deal with what you can't handle. Maybe even ask for a part-timer's help.

2. Have regular meetings.

Some of the major frustrations employees have with their bosses are due to a communication breakdown.

"Employees worry when bosses go behind closed doors, 'Are you talking about me?'" says Spencer Lee.

The paranoia won't be there if you feel part of the action. Spencer Lee advises you to set up regular meetings with your boss -- beyond your semi-annual review or quarterly update. You want to tell your boss your career goals and what you think you need to get there.

Also, ask them about their career goals, and what you can do to help them get there. Remember, your manager also needs support from you to succeed.

You read it: support your manager. Be his buddy. It might be painful, but every boss wants his people to be on his side, according to John Hoover, author of "How to Work for an Idiot." Hoover says the best way to accomplish that is to learn "idiot speak," or basically speak your boss' language. If your boss loves hockey, talk about hockey, even integrate hockey analogies into your proposals to the boss. It's one way to really get his attention.

3. Toot your own horn.

Everyone wants a boss that will promote him, improve him, and go to bat for him. But unfortunately not everyone is so lucky. If your boss doesn't want to get to know you as an employee or a person, force them to see you.

John Challenger, of outplacement firm, Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says you have to make sure your boss knows your accomplishments, the extra work you put in, and a bit about your personal life. It will help them see they need to reward your hard work and give you the vacation time you requested to spend with your family.

If you're getting no love from your boss, toot your horn to others in the food chain, advises Hoover. You can't hold expectations over your boss to accelerate your career: ultimately, it's your responsibility. "Any expectation is resentment waiting to happen. And resentment you can't hide," he says.

4. Learn from it.

Do things feel unbearable? Stop and think for a moment if your attitude could also be feeding into that feeling. Try to be more flexible; you may find others will try to be more flexible with you. While it might be hard to swallow your pride, you need to at least try to make it work. Ask yourself and your boss what you could be doing differently.

"Every circumstance is probably not going to last forever and is a learning experience," says Spencer Lee, "With every boss you have, learn something from them. What to do, what not to do." Chances are you're going to become a boss one day, so keep in mind what you think makes a good one.

5. Know when to bail.

Sometimes, there is just no way to make it work. Maybe you and your boss have repelling personalities or work styles. Maybe you're in a dead-end position.

"If you can look yourself in the mirror and say, 'In this environment, I am stagnant. There is no career development here, I am not learning anything, I can see that opportunities for promotion are non-existent, and it's not completely my issue.' Think: I should look elsewhere,'" Spencer Lee says.

If you're dealing with a larger issue than just career frustrations, such as sexual harassment, discrimination, bullying, or privacy invasion, you want to get your human resources friends involved. For additional advice on these situations, check out www.badbossology.com, which offers a how-to on dealing with all types of bad bosses.


Gerri Willis is a personal finance editor for CNN Business News and the host for Open House. E-mail comments to 5tips@cnn.com.  Top of page

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