Working With, As Well as For, Your Boss
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You know, the person who occupies the corner office and has a plum parking assignment right next to the company entrance.
The one who determines when you'll see your next pay raise, your next promotion - your next pink slip.
And like it or not, he or she is the most important person at your job. And that means a constructive relationship with the head cheese ranks as priority No. 1.
Yet for plenty of employees, tapping into the inner workings of the person at the top is a mystery. And plenty of bosses don't make the game any easier.
What if your boss keeps promising a promotion - "It's right around the corner" - but there you sit?
Or what if she constantly turns down your suggestions, or, worse, just plain ignores you?
"If the boss and the subordinate don't get along, the subordinate always pays," says Kate Wendleton, a career counselor in New York. "That means it's always the subordinate's job to work out the relationship."
You and your boss don't have to be best friends. It's not about "kissing up" either.
"It's just like a marriage. You have to work at keeping that relationship good," says John Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas in Chicago.
In an era of revolving bosses, these rules often apply to more than one boss.
"Most people have six to eight bosses they have to be concerned about," Ms. Wendleton says. That includes your boss, your boss's peers, and your boss's bosses.
Know your boss's style
Start by finding out what makes your boss tick. How does he operate? Then adapt your style to his.
For example, find out if your boss prefers to communicate face to face, by e-mail, or by telephone - with long memos or short ones.
Does she think meetings are a waste of time? If you don't know, ask.
"Most people don't listen to their bosses," says Wendleton, president of the Five O'Clock Club, a job-search club. "They decide they're going to use their own judgment."
If the boss says, "Put this in writing," then put it in writing.
Also, read your boss's memos and reports, and don't forget to attend his speeches.
You should ask for periodic performance reviews and meet regularly with your boss - on your boss's terms, of course. But don't abuse your boss by hogging his or her calendar or becoming a redundant hanger-on.
Toot your own horn
Regardless of the size of the company, most bosses don't know what their employees - especially those a few levels below them - are working on.
So it's important to update your boss regularly on your accomplishments.
Some consultants recommend a weekly or monthly memo that lists your current projects, their status, and tentative completion dates.
"Bosses are impressed by numbers," says Russell Wild, author of "Games Bosses Play" (Contemporary Books, 1997). The more you can show you're contributing to the bottom line, how much money you're making or saving, the better.
"The key is to point out the things of consequence," Mr. Wild advises, "not every time you've sharpened your pencil."
Meanwhile, your boss should be helping you.
"A boss is supposed to be a mentor," says Marilyn Moats Kennedy, a career consultant in Wilmette, Ill. "If you're not learning from your boss more about the organization and how to do things, you've got problems."
She suggests finding out what your boss's peers and his boss think of him. Also, look at his track record. When was he last promoted?
"If your boss hasn't gone anywhere in the company in the last three years, chances are he's not any time soon," Wild says, "and neither are you."
So it may be time to go boss shopping.
Here are some other scenarios experts say to watch out for:
A boss ignores you. First, ask yourself, is it just you, or does your boss ignore everyone else in the office?