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How to Manage Your Manager

Written by
Ankur Sharma Ankur Sharma
CPTO @ Perbox
Published
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A couple of years into my career, I transitioned from being a software developer to a product manager. While I had a chip on my shoulder, I was drowning when it came to the domain information. I loved the building part of product management, but every single day, realised that it does not happen in silos. Increased collaboration, stakeholder management, and meetings sucked my days. There were moments when I didn’t know if I needed to trade my political capital in the interest of taking the team's goals forward or to hold back. All the more, I didn’t know when to seek help from my manager.

Thankfully, my manager was an experienced hand, both in people and product management. And when he sensed my discomfort at our 1:1s, he stepped in and shared some invaluable nuggets of wisdom. They were an eye-opener. They also made me realise that if I want to manage my job and career, the first step is to manage my time with my manager.

From then to now, I have deepened my skill of managing my time with my manager, experimenting, listening to others’ mistakes, often making my own and successes.

Like any other relationship, do not run this one on auto-pilot

Ankur Sharma, CPTO @ Perkbox

Let me share what I have learned so that you don’t have to make the mistakes I made.

1) Get Comfortable with the Idea

To begin with, get comfortable with the fact that there is nothing manipulative with leveraging your time with your manager. The relationship between you and your manager is of mutual dependence. You, however, are more dependent on your manager than vice versa. Like any other relationship, do not run this one on auto-pilot. So, make peace with the fact that as human beings you both need each other and, in this relationship, managing your manager is not manipulative.

2) Do Not Assume

One of the cornerstones of your relationship with your manager is that you cannot have unrealistic assumptions. You should put in the time to learn, appreciate and support your manager’s organisational & personal objectives so that you can empathise with the kind of pressure they are operating under. You also need to assess their strengths & weaknesses. Whilst doing these things, do not make assumptions. Either ask or seek out information. Be ready to test their assumptions on professional matters.

The other part of this relationship is you: yourself. Do not assume things about yourself as well. Do you know your strengths and weaknesses? Your style of communication? Are you self-aware enough to know what makes you upset? Do you know what makes you acquiesce when a lot is at stake? If not, this is a good time to start reflecting and writing down the answers to these questions.

3) Communication Style

I learned that every time my manager changed, I needed to be ready to adapt my communication style based on my new manager’s style. You may see this as a controversial aspect of managing a relationship. Yet, it is better to adopt your communication style to your manager rather than assuming that they will understand your way of working and would rather bend to your way, language, and/or mode of communication.

Considered ‘Father of Modern Management’, Peter Drucker, said: “There are two kinds of bosses: ‘Readers’ and ‘Listeners’.” Whenever I start in a new job or start working with a new manager, one of my first questions to them is “How do you prefer to communicate?” Via this question, I try to understand how my manager likes to consume information. If they are “Readers”, I will be better off sending them a status report, followed by a discussion. If they are a “Listener”, I will be better off meeting them in person, discussing important topics, and following up with action items. Knowing their style will ensure that I am tapping into the best way of my manager’s decision-making abilities. I also have a standardised template to share the status, so that it becomes easy for my manager to read every time. I suggest that you do that too.

4) Over-dependence vs Counter-dependence

With all that I have mentioned above, I do not mean that you need to be compliant with everything your manager says. Don’t let your manager make a bad decision, especially when you know so. One key to being dependable is to disagree when you see a mistake. Your manager too will have limited time, knowledge, and blind spots, so make sure that you are not over-dependent on them for career development and all kinds of escalations. Instead, develop sponsors among your peers and colleagues while keeping your manager informed.

On the other extreme, you should also not continue to keep arguing with your manager because they are your manager. If that happens often and with different managers, ask yourself if you have challenges dealing with authority. Realising this is self-awareness, and is extremely important. Once you understand this, you can put measures in place to counter your emotions. A simple manoeuvre could be that whenever you see yourself overwhelmed and impatient with your manager, ask for some time to think and write things down. The key is to strike a balance.

Some of you reading this might be disappointed. That, on top of your job, are you now being asked to manage your manager? As if a full-time job is not enough! At this juncture, an important question to ask yourself is that every time you have grown fast in a role or organisation, how was your relationship with your manager?


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ankur Sharma

Ankur Sharma
CPTO @ Perbox

Ankur is a seasoned leader with 20 years of global experience in product, design, partnerships and technology. He has led teams through multiple stages including start-up, scale-up and publicly listed enterprises.

He is proficient in assembling and fostering high-performing teams aligned with the product vision and customer needs.

He is also an advisor and mentor to senior product and technology leaders and entrepreneurs, sharing his expertise and insights on SaaS, e-commerce, online marketplaces, and direct-to-consumer platforms.

He writes about leadership, startups, product and people management here and documents his reading here

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