Founder of Prior Consulting, author of Take Charge of Your View: Career Advice You Won't Get from Your Boss.
Is your boss taking time to help you nurture your professional dreams? If the answer is yes, you're one of the lucky ones. If the answer is no, that can change. And you can be the person who makes it happen.
The truth is, your boss is likely the top resource you have at your fingertips to boost your career and get closer to your vision of success. Unfortunately, this resource goes largely untapped. Not every boss is primed to be a resource, and most are so overwhelmed with the pace and volume of their own work and lives that they don't know how to step back and be more strategic about developing themselves, or you.
One study by researchers at Boston University found that 40 per cent of people who made career transitions said that their boss was a significant, helpful influence. The other 60 per cent struggled to make the relationship a win-win. It's critical to learn how to make that win-win happen and to leverage your boss as a stepping stone to bigger things.
How can you help your manager feel less overwhelmed by daily tasks and more dialed-in when it comes to your professional development? What's the secret to transforming your manager into your best career ally?
It's a simple concept: have empathy for your boss. But the plan of attack is a bit more elaborate.
Empathy is "the social and emotional glue that helps us maintain our relationships," says educator Karla McLaren, and that glue goes a long way when it comes to encouraging your boss to buy in to your development.
In today's tough work environments, softer skills such as empathy are increasingly viewed as essential leadership qualities. Strengthening this all-important skill may not only improve your relationship with your boss, it may help you handle interpersonal conflicts more effectively and build deeper connections with peers. In the long run, your investment of time today in practising empathy with your manager may lead to bigger career returns down the road.
What are the practical ways to build a greater win-win relationship with your boss? By using what I call an "empathy map." Below are the questions and scenarios that, together, create the map:
What are your manager's professional dreams? How do you support them?
It might sound counterintuitive, but to get where you want to go, it's powerful to know where your boss wants to go. Try to see things from your boss's perch. Put yourself in your boss's shoes. What pressures is he or she under? Then consider: how could you and your boss be more of a team, working toward achieving your collective goals?
What do you see your manager doing that could be delegated to you?
Many managers don't know how to let go of work that is no longer theirs to do. This week, scan the horizon for what's happening on your team. Notice when your manager takes on tasks that could be delegated. For example, does your boss write a summary report of the department's activities? Liaise with another department? Draft the agenda and facilitate an upcoming team meeting? Scan the horizon outside of the company for new technologies you can suggest. Draft a proposal for how you could help.
How often do you give your manager positive feedback?
Positive feedback is one of the most underutilized tools in the workplace. You may be waiting for your boss to give you a pat on the back, but chances are today's bosses don't hear much when it comes to the things they are doing well. Give your boss positive feedback on a regular basis. Think about something he or she did this week to help the team or you be more effective. Be specific about the action and its impact.
Find a way to tap into your manager's professional network in a way that's a win-win
Your boss may have access to people in departments or other organizations whom you'd like to meet to learn more about their work or professions. Most people assume their boss wouldn't want to make this kind of introduction. Identify a person you'd like to meet and ask for your boss's help in making the connection. This builds your boss's reputation as someone who cares about developing her people and who is good at making connections. Believe it or not, it's a big win-win.
Although it may feel like you're straying from your own career advancement, taking the time to empathize with your boss is the fast-track to enhanced career development and greater satisfaction in your work.
Executives, employees, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.