Project Practitioners > Make Your Boss Look Good

Make Your Boss Look Good

By Ed Reynolds

My uncle once told me, "The best way to get ahead in your career is to always be prepared to do your boss' job and then work like heck to get them promoted." One of the most fundamental principles of good management (and career management) is making your boss look good.

In an ideal world, good managers surround themselves with great people, give them directional guidance and sit back to watch them do wonderful things that grow the business.  I feel like I am contributing best when I build and execute my own plan. I want my boss to give me that leeway and that is the type of manager I try to be but this is rare. Your average boss wants to put their mark on the business and they will appreciate you most when you are helping them.

Here’s a gut check for some of you (it was for me). Do you think you could do your boss’ job a lot better than they can? Do you think they are fundamentally missing the mark on some important aspect of the business? Are you worried they don’t really understand your work and you need to straighten them out? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you suffer from the “I know better” problem. It will take practice, discipline and humility to make your boss look good. Some helpful theorems follow.

Theorem #1: Your boss’ priorities are your priorities. If you think you know better, keep it to yourself. If your agenda differs from theirs, work on yours in your spare time and only if it doesn’t undermine theirs. If you would like to get fired or placed in a truly unsatisfying  job, just undermine your boss’ priorities and leave a trail back to yourself.

Theorem #2: Your boss is always right, especially in public. This one's dicey because there are two types of “public.” There’s the “public public” and then there’s “within your team public.” Take your boss’ position in “public public.” Honor their stance and be prepared to defend it. Follow their lead on extemporaneous issues. In “within the team public,” you can ask probing questions to discern their position or even to help your boss form a position but don’t use the line of questioning to lead him to your position. That discussion has to happen 1:1. Use your 1:1 time to understand your boss’ key concerns and their position on those. Use 1:1 time to argue your position or surface new issues. But when the 1:1 is over, you are in public. Please re-read Theorem #2.

Theorem #3: Drive your boss’ agenda with passion. Even if you don’t feel the passion, it’s a game and you have to get good at it. Some of the best learning experiences in my career have been in doing things I didn’t personally believe in. Do you know why? Because when our heart isn’t in it, we have to listen, negotiate and execute to the limit of our mental abilities. Anybody can do a great job on something they really want to do; it takes mental discipline and passionate determination to excel at something you don’t. People who master this get promoted.

If it isn’t a moral or ethical issue, the boss is always right. Help them manage more effectively and do yourself a favor by making your boss look good. I relish the opportunities I get to do things my way. The rest of the time, I do what I have to. I have learned (mostly the hard way) that if I do what they want, with passion, they reward me. I always try to remember that I work for a business that is motivated by profit and shareholder value. I have to get most of my self-actualization on my own time.

Not all comments are posted. Posted comments are subject to editing for clarity and length.

Great reminders, Ed. These are words to live by, but it can be so hard to stuff your own agenda in your back pocket and leave it there. Love your uncle's advice, too.

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