In managing your career, you need to be a pro at managing your relationship with your boss i.e. leadership or manager. Do not confuse understanding your boss with getting to know your boss. Getting to know your boss is spending time chatting on a level that only yields information such as how he feels, how the family is doing, what he wants you to do as a part of your job, and his values, thoughts and beliefs as a manager. Getting to know your boss is great because it creates a relationship that is mutually understood and accepted. However, understanding your boss is knowing what makes them tick and what ticks them off thus giving you an inside track in meeting their needs. It’s being able to anticipate their needs based on your understanding of them.

This is easier said than done, especially since some decision-makers don’t know themselves, although they are managing or leading. Understanding your boss is a knowledge and ability that will prove most beneficial in establishing a mutually rewarding relationship and not only meeting, but also exceeding his expectations. Understanding your boss begins by recognizing and then accommodating his management style to increase your ability to work with him. This will allow you to manage the relationship between you and your boss, thus you will be effective in getting your job done. Your goal should be to analyze your boss and yourself to determine how to better approach work place situations, tasks and concerns.

I was speaking at the HRMAsia conference this week, and I met this man who shared with me that he couldn’t truly do his job of supporting his boss because his boss wouldn’t get out of the way. What led to a lengthy conversation was based on my walking up to his boss who was speaking to a couple of people. I gave a warm hello and briefly talked to his boss and then walked over to my booth. Later that day, I walked up to the guy and asked if he would do me a favor based on what I perceived his job to be. He clarified what his purpose was for being at the conference. I was confused because his boss didn’t introduce him, as such. He exclaimed that such always happens because his boss never introduces him or allows him to truly do his job, either. So, I put on my coaching hat and started asking questions. It seems that this professional has explained to his boss what it takes to truly support him. What I shared with the guy is that he should manage upward and be very clear on differentiating what his boss needs versus what he wants to provide which could be entirely different based on each other’s perspective. I gave him a phrase to say to his boss, “I need you to help me to help you.” In short, once you know what your boss truly wants and needs, then figure out what you must do to fulfil those requirements. I recommended that he share with his boss where he believes the leader is going and inquire on whether your perception is correct and what path or route he would like you to take to help him get there. You will either get support or clarity if you are in error. If this doesn’t work you must have a candid conversation to take the guess work out of the relationship and ensure your success.

Managing a relationship with your boss is merely playing the game by the unwritten rules. No one is going to tell you to do these things. It’s totally up to you on how you engage your boss, and the direction in which that relationship will take or not take. Here are a few tips that I’ve pulled from my books, Playing by the Unwritten Rules:

• Never embarrass your boss.
This could mean anything from not providing information that is needed for a meeting to making a statement that contradicts them in front of their boss or a client. The best way to avoid embarrassing your boss is to anticipate his needs. Always be prepared.

• Don’t speak against the company, department or organization to outsiders.
Unless there is a whistle to be blown, all else is considered dirty laundry that should be kept within the walls of your organization. That means if you are on the third floor, it is in your best interest not to share what is going on with a peer on the sixth floor. Your name and the information you shared will find its way back to your boss.

• Don’t sit in the power seat during meetings.
Allow the leader to select his/her seat and watch to see where s/he will have his/her core team sit. Then sit in a chair that is available. This is definitely true for interviews. Usually the power player has a preferred seat; so go with the flow of the room. If you aren’t sure, be close to the last one to sit down to take a vacant seat or simply ask, “where would you like for me to sit?”

• Don’t play with golf clubs that will upstage your boss.
This is odd to me, too. But, I’ve been told that people should rent a set in some circumstances. I wouldn’t care at all if my direct-report’s clubs were nicer than mine, but some decision-makers take the game seriously and place their ego on their game and their clubs, which can be a status symbol. Hey, I don’t make the rules and, again, they aren’t relevant everywhere, but this is worth mentioning because I have heard it a few times in conversations.

• Attend forced fun activities.
Forced fun sometimes isn’t so fun, especially when you rather be doing something with people whom you choose to have in your life. But, forced fun is a gesture to build esprit de corps or as something decision-makers want to do. Forced fun could be a lunch and learn, picnic, drinks on me, or whatever takes you from work to a personal environment. Simply drop by and then leave if you don’t really want to even go. But, make that appearance and engage in a little small talk before exiting. But, if you don’t care about the game, skip the party, lunch dates, after work drinks, or whatever your leadership team deems appropriate: don’t be forced to have fun.

• Don’t back door your boss.
Just because his/her boss has an open door policy that doesn’t mean you should use it without speaking with your immediate supervisor/manager first. Go gently into the night because whatever is said will be repeated at some point. Even an innocent visit can ruffle the most confident feathers. Respect the chain of command, even in a participative team environment.

• Accept whatever someone, especially your boss, has done on your behalf based upon your request.
If you have changed your mind or position after you have asked for that favor, do not make the mistake of not accepting whatever it is that was done for you. For all you know that person may have had to give up something in exchange for your request, and to not be gracious in accepting it will certainly raise an eyebrow or two. Now, if you didn’t ask for it, then that is entirely different.

• Don’t ridicule anyone in public.
As Benjamin Franklin said to John Adams in an HBO documentary, “To do so would give the impression that you mean it.” There are times and places to discuss your views, especially, when they are in opposition to or may embarrass someone. If you simply must disclose your opinion in public, tread lightly with tact and diplomacy. Now, some organizations pride itself on people being assertive and voicing their opinion while others aren’t; just be clear on what is acceptable behavior and condoned. And, keep in mind that it’s not about what is or is not said, but rather how you say it. As Maya Angelou said, “People will not remember what you said, but how you made them feel.”

• Don’t use a public venue to address a private matter.
Yeah, having an audience or witnesses may expand your comfort zone, but I assure you as your comfort zone increases the other party’s may decrease. This may prove to have a negative impact on your relationship with that person and with people who may witness the encounter, as well. Remember that your boss is a mere mortal and has an ego. Be careful of how you shape the opinion of others based on how you treat your boss.

• Respect the title, grade or position.
I find a lot of people expressing heartburn in calling a person by his/her title when that person has earned a Ph.D. or that job. This is a source of contention for some in organizations that hire professionals with professional degrees. Some people flat out refuse to call Sherry Taylor…Dr. Taylor. But, a true sign of your level of professional maturity is to acknowledge the title or position. Often the person will ask to be called by his/her name, but until that time, extend that level of respect. It’s unfortunate that people equate that with “s/he isn’t better than me” and stubbornly makes it appoint to not address the person properly. What that often reveals is that person’s own personal hang-ups and insecurities. I’m called Dr. Indigo by choice. I could be called Dr. Triplett, but I prefer the informal stance of using my first name, and aside from that it is my ‘brand’ similar to Dr. Phil or Dr. Oz.

For more insight on the unwritten rules, order my book at Also, if you want to know more about managing upward, don’t miss my Women’s Forum. Visit my website at