At a glance
In any workplace, your relationship with your boss is crucial. A healthy relationship with your manager is vital to boosting performance, increasing efficiency and reducing workplace stress.
In her new book, The New Leader: From team member to people leader – a practical guide, Stacey Ashley FCPA dedicates a chapter to what she calls “onboarding your boss”.
“Your boss is an incredibly influential person in terms of your ability to perform in your current role and your overall career,” Ashley says. “Why not set the relationship up for success?”
Organise a meeting with your new manager as early as possible and use the time to initiate some key conversations. “It doesn’t have to be super formal, but really just starting the conversation about how you’re going to work together,” says Ashley.
First, establish what is important to your boss – their priorities, areas of focus, big-ticket agenda items, vision, and strategy.
You need to align your priorities with those of your boss, not the other way around. “Understand your boss’s priorities, and then figure out what your priorities are in relation to theirs,” writes Ashley.
Next, find out what your boss expects of you. In some cases, this may be a difficult conversation, but one that sets the parameters by which your future achievements will be measured.
In The New Leader, Ashley offers a list of questions to ask your boss at that first meeting:
- What’s your strategy?
- How do you see my role?
- What are the most important things that you need me to focus on and deliver?
- What are the key challenges?
- What are the key deliverables or objectives you have for the coming three months, six months, 12 months?
The goal is to get “insight into their vision and strategy so that you can understand how you, as a member of the team, contribute to that”, she says.
The conversation should also address logistics such as communication and reporting. Ashley says that too often she hears people say they have no idea how their boss wants to receive information. Ask how often they want updates and in what form – do they want a report, a 10-minute chat or an email?
“It sounds basic, and it is, but if we’ve never actually talked about that, I could be doing something and it’s totally not what my boss wants,” says Ashley.
What you need from your boss
Part of setting expectations is outlining what you expect of your manager. “Be clear about what you need from them as a leader,” Ashley says. Let them know how you want to communicate with them, where you would like autonomy and how you will ask for help when you need it.
It’s also an opportunity to set clear ground rules around one-on-ones – how often you will meet and what will be discussed. One-on-ones are essential to maintaining a healthy ongoing relationship between a boss and direct-report, says Ashley. These regular meetings are an opportunity for a leader to check in with their team member, provide mentorship and opportunities for development, and share feedback.
A typical story she hears is of one-on-ones that are regularly cancelled or avoided altogether – both scenarios that constitute a red flag for Ashley.
“The message that sends is that ‘I’m not important enough to my boss’,” she says. “If you’re in a role where you have responsibility for people, part of that responsibility is to spend time with them… How well are they going to perform if they don’t feel valued by their boss? They’re not. There are some individuals who are completely self-motivated and really diligent, but for most of us, we do want that acknowledgement. We want to feel like we are valued by our immediate leader.”
Part of establishing a positive relationship with your manager is letting them know your achievements. Don’t automatically assume that your boss recognises your success. Be clear about what is going well and what needs more work.
“By being proactive about this, firstly you’re making sure your boss knows what you’re doing, and if they need to refocus you, they can,” Ashley writes, “and they can measure the progress that you’re making.”
When things go wrong
If your relationship with a new boss gets off to a bad start, “revisit it as quickly as you can”, says Ashley. “Be open about it – let’s acknowledge that maybe it’s not going the way that either of us would have liked it, and see what we can do to reset our expectations of each other and be more effective in future.”
It doesn’t mean that you’re ever going to be best friends, she says. Instead, focus on creating the opportunity for the two of you to perform as well as you can by understanding how you can work more effectively together.