How To Be Managed

🙋‍♀️ This is a cross-post from my newsletter, Leading by Design. If you liked the post below, consider subscribing! I post one issue per month.

Almost all of us started our careers as individual contributors first and migrated to managing people later. We all have a ton of opinions on how our managers should manage us. Then why is the transition to a manager so tricky?

After mulling on it for a while (read: years), I believe that the first step for a successful career is to get the most out of your relationship with your current manager. You can start by avoiding the same mistakes everyone makes.

🤦‍♀️ Everyone makes the same mistakes

You don’t talk openly and honestly to your manager. If you take one idea from this newsletter issue, let it be this: Don’t expect your manager to carefully analyse your words to deduce if you feel angry, discouraged or demotivated. Even if they care for you and want to see you grow, your manager is not your therapist. Express your feelings and explain your thoughts, and do that as clearly and as often as possible to make sure they understand you. Don’t make assumptions about what your manager should know, or how they should act if you don’t make sure you communicate openly and transparently first.

Most managers have more than one direct reports and myriad other things in their minds that you probably don’t know. Never assume that they’re going to catch your subtle hints. They’re as stressed as you, and waiting for that spring break as much as you are.

You don’t make the most out of your 1:1 meetings. These meetings are an essential tool at your disposal to help you cultivate a productive relationship with your manager. Don’t forget that this is your dedicated time with them, so the agenda should consist of topics on the top of your mind. Your manager is there to provide feedback or coach you to solve a problem. Prepare before these meetings as well as possible. If you don’t hold recurring 1:1 meetings with your manager, go ahead and ask them to organise them (or do that yourself!).

You can also use 1:1 meetings for the more critical conversations about your career development. Be honest about what you want to pursue professionally, including any growth areas you wish to work. Your manager won’t give you any stretch goals if they don’t know anything about what you’re trying to achieve.

You don’t ask for feedback, or you don’t apply it to your work when you receive it. “Growth mindset” gets tossed around a lot during interviews, but asking for feedback is only one part of the equation. Acting on feedback is the crucial second step. Your work as an employee is not done just because you asked for some input! Try to find the best way to incorporate it to your work and make sure you understood your manager’s feedback by repeating it to them.

You don’t raise red flags early. If you’re working on anything that can potentially miss a deadline or derail a release, say it, and do that as early as possible. Your manager’s work is to do everything they can to help you, so they can move the deadline or reduce the project scope as needed. You shouldn’t suffer in silence and be a hero. No one is going to give you a medal for working long stressful hours to finish something that could’ve been less painful if you’ve raised the flag earlier.

You don’t hold your manager accountable. The role of your manager is to help you do your best work, removing obstacles and clearing up any confusion. They probably have a vague idea of how they can help you, but this won’t go far if you don’t allow them to help you. Don’t be afraid to manage up. Remind your manager about a commitment they might have neglected or suggest taking up some work for them. You’re not overstepping here, you take some work out of your manager’s plate, and they’ll probably appreciate it more than you know.

You don’t employ a problem-solving attitude. Try to keep a productive demeanour when discussing roadblocks and challenges with your manager. They aren’t there to solve your problems for you. What they should do is to remove any roadblocks in your way that deter you from solving the problem yourself.

Your manager can and will have blind spots, and they’ll appreciate fresh ideas coming from someone that’s not as biased as they are. A good manager will empower you to take action and make sure you have all the means to succeed at any initiative you lead. Stretch goals like this can also increase your chances for promotion.

You don’t set boundaries. If your manager says something that you consider unproductive or even hurtful, make sure you let them know. You’re the one responsible for drawing the line at what your manager can or can’t say to you. I understand that this comes from privilege, as not everyone has the means to leave a job if their relationship with their manager is not productive. But you have to be clear about what’s acceptable for you in a professional setting.

You expect to be promoted before acting at a more senior level. Most companies don’t promote their people based on the years they’ve spent working there. They expect to see a clear progression to their skills before considering them for a more senior role. If you’re not happy with your current level and want a promotion, I’d suggest asking for a stretch goal and making sure you start acting a level above your pay grade. Promotions are not prerequisites for stellar performance.

🤔 What if these still don’t work?

You might fix all of the above issues and still not have a productive relationship with your manager. It’s then possible, dear reader, that the onus is not on you.

Your manager might not be a good fit for your career. People management comes more naturally to some people than others. The same manager can work efficiently with one person, and dreadfully with the next. Office politics and clashing personalities get in the way.

However, you should avoid spending your entire career blaming your managers for not achieving your goals. Make an effort to fix your relationship first, and help them help you.

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