Career management takes work. However, one of the most important factors for professional success is your ability to manage those who manage you. Although you have no direct control over your supervisor, there is much you can do to "help him help you."
Tip 1: Pick good coat tails to ride on. Want to go places in your career? Start by looking for a manager who has ambition that matches yours. Opportunity often occurs when your manager moves into a new role. Managers who take on new initiatives, spearhead projects and are promoted often are great conduits for increased responsibility and career momentum. You should choose your match carefully, however. Upwardly mobile professionals typically have high expectations of their team. If you are not looking to get on the fast track, target a manager with a pace more suitable to yours.
Tip 2: Get to know your manager's motivation. Do you know what he would like or need to accomplish in his role in the near term as well as over the next couple of years? Knowledge is power. When you identify your supervisor's goals, you can make sure that your work correlates with key priorities. It also assists in understanding the motivation behind certain decisions. You should be aware that someone's professional goals are frequently distinct from the department's or corporation's mission. That doesn't mean they aren't complementary, just that there is usually a personal layer below the organizational compliance. For example, your manager would like to be promoted to VP by 35. In a support role, you can make sure that any external or executive level correspondence is handled with extra care – since exemplary communication is often a key for promotion. Your diligence will be greatly appreciated by an image-conscious supervisor. It may also help explain why your manager puts extra pressure on the team even when your department is ahead of budget.
Tip 3: Multiple choice versus a blank comment box. We have all received a survey that has several multiple choice questions and then an empty comment box to provide more detail. Most of us dread the comment box because it requires more thinking than selecting A, B or C. This holds true at work. In today's fast-paced environment where even logging into your computer requires thinking about multiple passwords, posing a choice among A, B or C always gets a better response than asking someone to fill in the comment box.
Here is how this plays out at work. You are given a new project that requires collaboration with two other departments. After repeated attempts, you are still missing critical information from colleagues in these departments. You now need to escalate the problem to your manager before you miss your deadline. Option one: You go to your manager and say, "I am having an issue with receiving information from the accounting and sales departments. Can you help me?" Option two: "I am having an issue with receiving information from accounting and sales. Do you think it would be better for me to go to the department heads and ask for their assistance OR set up a conference call with the respective colleagues and you to discuss the issues?"
Option two is more useful for you for several reasons. First, it gives you an answer on the spot. If you used the comment box option, you stand a high chance that your manager may ask to think about it and get back to you. You also stand a high chance that your manager will not get back to you unless your issue is mission critical for him because he has too many other "To Dos" to address. Even a manager who has every intention of getting back to you is at the mercy of an ever-mounting list of priorities. He may simply get distracted and now you have to follow up on your request again. Third, a multiple choice question demonstrates that you have thought through the issues, narrowed the options and just need a more senior consultation. It is simple, concise and actionable.
Tip 4: Write it down. Decisions made on the fly are often the product of minimal information, a need for expediency and a past experience that seemed similar. There are times that a manager may decide one way, and later fault you for taking that course of action. However, it is usually a CLM (career-limiting move) to remind your manager publicly that he recommended that direction. Instead, after a decision is made, send your manager a quick email recapping the scenario and the advised course of action. This works well because it confirms that you both heard the same thing. In other words, you are checking for clarity. Next, it allows for buyer's remorse. Seeing the proposed resolution in writing may prompt a modification or outright change. Both you and your manager may think of an even better approach when reviewing in writing. And of course, if things do not go as planned, you will have a record of the given advice if anyone questions how you came to that decision.
Don't leave your career success to chance. Make it easy for your manager to manage you. With these four tips, you can be prepared to be promoted.
Robin Reshwan is the Founder of Collegial Services, a consulting/staffing firm that connects college students, recent graduates and the organizations that hire them and a certified Women's Business Enterprise (WBE). She has interviewed, placed and hired thousands of people across a broad spectrum of companies and industries. Her career tips and advice are used by universities, national clubs/associations and businesses. A Certified Professional Résumé Writer, Robin has been honored as a Professional Business Woman of the Year by the American Business Women's Association. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa and as a Regents Scholar from University of California, Davis.