Help deliver what matters.
The strength of your relationship with your direct manager strongly influences your success. Here are straightforward tactics to build a close, productive relationship with him or her.
Perform: If you consistently deliver great results, you build the foundation for a great relationship with your boss. Your high performance makes her look good and reduces the effort she needs to spend managing you, so it’s a double win for her. Although science says that if you’re great at ingratiating yourself with your boss, your actual performance matters less, that’s a rather risky long-term strategy. At some point, you’ll have a new boss who will value your sucking up only in addition to your performance, not in place of it.
Help deliver what matters: Your boss wants to look good to those above and around her. A surefire connecting strategy is to know what will make her look good and help her achieve that. The easiest way to determine this is to ask, “What’s on your agenda right now?” or “What’s the one deliverable, project, or metric that you really want to ace this year or quarter?”
Once you know her concerns, identify and offer specific ways you can help. Don’t just ask, “Is there anything I can do to help?” Give options for how you can support her. If she has a big presentation coming up, offer to help with the research, gather data, assemble the presentation, or review it. If there’s an upcoming sales meeting, volunteer to conduct research on the company, on its products, or on the target company’s executive team.
Put conscious effort into asking your boss that question and following up afterward. You will possibly be the only one who does this, which makes this approach even more effective. Even if your manager says no the first time, ask regularly. You’ll get credit for your positive intentions.
Flatter: No matter how humble we think we are, it’s amazing how much we like to hear others praise our capabilities and accomplishments. Flattery can be “great presentation” or “you seem to really know what’s going on around here.” People love to be complimented and think more positively about those who compliment them. While it’s theoretically possible to go overboard, science says that even when people know we’re false in our flattery, they’ll still feel good about it and us. Your boss is human—she has the same insecurities that you do. You’ll gain significant goodwill if you regularly make her feel good about herself and her value at work.
Offer genuine personal friendship: The most obvious way to build a strong relationship is to become your boss’s friend. That positive relationship will have great benefits that last longer than those you’ll get through more transactional connecting strategies. You build that friendship as you would any other, through regular contacts, trusting actions, listening, and acting selfless.
Pay attention to your boss’s personal interests as well. You don’t have to become an expert in offshore powerboat racing, cricket, quilting, or whatever unique hobby she has, but if she conspicuously mentions or displays something that indicates an interest, occasionally ask about it. Don’t fake expertise in her favorite interest. You’ll lose huge amounts of goodwill if you say you love Formula One auto racing but can’t name your favorite driver, team, or track.
While anyone can apply any of these tactics, women engage in impression management less often than men. Whether it’s self- promotion, sucking up, or aggressively stating your case, men are more likely to actively try to connect and persuade people they work with. Some of these tactics are incredibly effective to improve the quality and depth of important relationships. When women don’t use these tactics to advance their careers, they’re limiting their success. These are behaviors—completely controllable and learnable—that women should use to better position themselves to be high performers.
This article is an excerpt from the new book 8 Steps to High Performance.
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