Working with the Boss: 6 Questions for Better Effectiveness with Your Manager

February 18, 2015

working with the boss

How effective is your working relationship with your manager? The boss needs you to do your job. How well you do that job may depend on how well you understand your boss, regardless of whether you like your manager or not. The better you understand your boss, the more likely outcomes will be good, both for the organization and for you.

Few people think about their supervisors’ jobs or work styles. Asking yourself a few questions about your boss might clarify the best ways to work with her or what you might expect from her. The better you know someone, the easier to work with that person. Can you confidently answer the following questions about your boss?

  1. What are your boss’s highest priorities? “Sure,” you might answer, “just the other day she stated this is our highest concern.” But is that the highest priority? Formal priorities and informal priorities may not be the same. What are the pressures on your boss from above? How can you help your boss achieve the results that really matter?
  1. Is your boss a listener or a reader? Some bosses drop by your workplace or call people into their offices. They ask questions about issues, bounce ideas, and form positions, just from talking and listening. Other bosses want the same type of information but want it in writing. These bosses prefer to read, digest, and form their positions from what they read. Most of us have a preferred style, whether we realize it or not. Your preferred style may or may not match up with your supervisor. Can you adjust?
  1. Does your boss compartmentalize work and home? People differ in their preferences for separating their work life from their life away from the job. Some managers eat, live, and breathe their jobs. They may stay late at the office or continue working into the evening at home. Others leave the office and the work behind to focus on other parts of their lives. If you and your boss are mismatched, there may be occasional work-related issues, such as not enough time to meet expectations or your boss not having enough time to answer questions or provide advice.
  1. What are your boss’s greatest strengths and weaknesses? All of us have strengths and weaknesses. You probably know some of your boss’s strengths and weaknesses, but do you know which are greatest? Where does your boss really excel? Could your boss use those strengths to support you better? On the other hand, what can you do to help your boss in areas where he may be weak? How can you compensate for these weaknesses when it affects your performance?
  1. Does your boss trust you and others? This may be complicated. Creating a culture of trust starts at the top. Your manager may be trustworthy and honest but still not be trusting of you, or some others, for a variety of reasons. When people are not trusted, this can affect performance and lower productivity. Is your boss unnecessarily a micromanager? Are there deficiencies in employees’ workplace performance that need to be addressed? It is sometimes said that trust is earned. The best managers will grow their people as necessary to ensure that any issues of trust are resolved.
  1. Is your boss a people-person or task-driven? Most likely you know the answer. Some bosses are very task-oriented and may or may not have strong people skills. Others thrive better where relational skills are most important. They get the job done working with people. The best managers are both, using the style most appropriate to the situation. If you find yourself working with a boss toward one extreme or the other, think through how that might affect your work and how you may need to adjust.
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About The Author

John Ballard PhD is is the author of Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations. A Professor of Management at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, Ohio, he has over 20 years of consulting and managerial experience. Connect with John at, www.facebook/johnballardphd, and on twitter @johnballardphd.


  1. avatar

    I think these are all excellent. But regarding the first one, it’s important to ask yourself, “What’s my boss’ highest priority TODAY?” At the very least, you should evaluate your boss’ highest priority on a weekly basis if not daily. I say that because your boss’ highest priority feeds off of his or her boss’ highest priority. That often is fluid and may change frequently and suddenly. I’ve learned not to be shy about asking. You’d be surprised how pleased the boss will be when you show an interest. They usually will tell you in a formal announcement, but if they don’t, just ask. Most bosses aren’t fickle and they don’t change just to make your life miserable. Some do, but most are responding to the climate that’s rolling down from the top.

  2. avatar

    These are great questions to ask yourself about your boss. It’s true, most of us usually don’t look at our jobs through the eyes of our bosses. That’s a good habit to get into. Periodically stop and force yourself to look at your job the way your boss might look at it. What do you see? It might be a little frightening, but will might also shed some light on how you can improve your relationship with your boss. It may also cause you to shift your energies from one set of tasks to another. Remember, it’s a two-way street. Don’t always wait for your boss to take the lead and come to you with tasks. Once you have a better sense of what’s important to your boss, you can suggest tasks and projects that would show initiative. A great way to get ahead.

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