How to Manage Your Manager

Let’s face it: not every boss out there is perfect at delegating. Not every boss is perfect at communicating. Sometimes your manager will make suggestions or request actions that don’t make a whole lot of sense or don’t seem to fit into your current priorities. There may be times when you are buried and your boss dumps a load of new tasks on your desk, and there may be other times when you have completed all of your work and the boss has not provided any further direction. So what do you do next? Here are a few tips for reacting when you boss’s actions lead you to feel like you should be the one managing them.

Scenario #1: Your boss gives you a load of new work when you are already buried with other things:

What you want to say: “Are you crazy, I have 20 other things on my list! How am I supposed to get this done?”

What you should say: “It sounds like this is important, so I appreciate that you want to get this done. Would you mind taking just a moment to prioritize this for me against these other tasks? I can show you what I have on my list and hopefully you can help me figure out how where I should prioritize this and put it on the list.”

Scenario #2: Your boss gives you some new crazy harebrained project that doesn’t seem to make sense:

What you want to say: “Are you crazy? Why are you asking me to do this?”

What you should say: “This sounds interesting, but I’d like to make sure I understand what you’d like to do. Could you take just a minute and help me understand this and how this fits into the big picture? I believe I can do a much better job of completing this if I have a few more details about the context. In the long run, it will probably save us time.”

Scenario #3: Your boss asks you to do something you don’t know how to do.

How should you respond (multiple choice)?

a) Nod your head and pretend you know what they are talking about and then go ask someone else.
b) Nod your head, then, when they come back to ask about it, tell them that you don’t know how to do it.
b) Tell them that you don’t know how to do it and try to get out of it.
d) Let them know that you are not 100% sure that you have all of the knowledge but you are willing to give it a try. Then ask them if it is okay to come to you with questions or if there is someone else that would be available to assist if needed.

The best answer, of course, is d). In most professions, a good manager will appreciate someone who is willing to try new things and is not afraid of a challenge, but they also want to know that you will come ask for help or will seek help from another qualified source if there are any questions or uncertainties.

Scenario #4: You have completed all of your assigned work, and your boss has not provided any further instructions or assignments.

Always ask “what else?” When you are new at a job and you want to make a good impression, it is good to finish the work given to you early and go back to your boss and ask “what else do you need me to do?” Mediocre managers might be annoyed by this because you are actually making it more difficult to keep you busy. However, great managers will love this and will realize that you are a superstar and are getting things done more quickly than they expected. They will see this as an opportunity to help you grow and learn new things, and it may mean that they can eventually lean on you to delegate important tasks and responsibilities that will make their job easier.

As you get more familiar with your job, you should get better at recognizing opportunities to do more work on your own and answer “what else?” for yourself.

The next time you encounter any of these situations, consider using one of the responses or ideas shared here. If you’re a manager, consider sharing this article with your direct reports for a subtle way to convey some useful tips that might help them in their interactions with you.