Don't forget to look up! Managing your Manager in Finance

The phrase “managing your boss” always seems to have a slightly sinister connotation. As if you’re either trying to play an elaborate game to get to the top, House of Cards style, or, more dramatically, “rebel” against the idea of a top down management system.

But actually, the concept behind the phrase is far from cold calculation, manipulation, or rebellion, it’s about working together to achieve common goals. In a previous #bardenlearningcurve piece, we focused on the idea of emotional intelligence in leadership – this is it in action. Managing our bosses is something we all engage in, or should engage in, every day as absolutely it’s critical to building effective working partnerships, and vitally, to delivering our objectives.

“Mutual Dependence Between Two Fallible Human Beings”

What we need to accept, before we go any further, is that the relationship you have with your boss, or with your subordinate, is mutually dependent. So as much as you are managed, or you manage, you rely on the other person in that relationship to give you support when needed. You rely on you boss for advice, approval and stakeholder support, just as much as you rely on your reports to provide you with honest information and continued support in delivering your objectives.

John J. Gabarro and John P. Kotter’s now famous article, “Managing Your Boss”, addresses this simple truth. They argue that effective leaders take the time and effort to manage relationships with both their subordinates and with their bosses – and moreover, this is an essential aspect of leadership that is sometimes ignored by otherwise talented but less emotionally astute managers.

Assumptions: Upward Reactivity and Self-Sufficiency

Putting aside any personality conflicts, all too many finance managers assume reactive relationships with their bosses – they take instructions when given, interact when requested, and present back when required. Most managers also believe they should be self-sufficient, and that the reason they have been appointed a “manager” is that they no longer need the intensive guidance and support they may have received previously. Any proactive relationship development is focused downwards and sideways, to reports and peers. Commonly seen when an individual contributor becomes a manager, what these managers are missing is leveraging the support, information and resources a boss can supply.

Goals, Pressures, Problems, Strengths and Weaknesses

Gabarro and Kotter argue that actually understanding your boss’s style, the pressures that they are under, the problems they are facing and their weaknesses as a leader will build far stronger, and more effective working relationships. For example, if you proactively uncover the full remit of pressures experienced by your boss, you’ll focus on what’s really important and understand what’s on course and what’s not. By understanding small personality nuances, such as a predilection for reports or requirement for background information prior to meetings, your actually interactions will be far more productive, for both parties.

Counter-Dependence vs. Over-Dependence: Go Deep into Your Own Psychology

Additionally they suggest that by understanding your own gut reactions to authority you’ll develop better ways of managing your interaction with your boss. Highlighting the two extremes of counter-dependence (authority as the institutional enemy) and over-dependence (compliance with authority even when you know it’s not right), they suggest that understanding your own deep-rooted predispositions will provide insight into your relationship with your boss, and can help you develop coping mechanisms to avoid conflict, misinterpretation and gaps in understanding.

Importantly, “managing your boss” isn’t about office politics. It’s about getting work done, and achieving company objectives in a collaborative, and effective way. By no means is managing upwards about “playing up” or finding underhand ways to get to the top; it’s about finding the best possible way to interact with your superiors to achieve common goals.

We’ll leave the darker side to Frank Underwood.

Read More: Gabarro, J.P., Kotter, J.P., “Managing Your Boss” HBR

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