Many people wrongfully think that being successful at work is all about creating their own winning reputation. Whether you like it or not, the way company leadership views you is tied to how your boss and your department performs.
Everyone associated with a successful team gets a ‘halo effect’ and everyone connected to an underperforming area gets splattered with a bit of mud. So while you are networking and delivering stellar results for your responsibilities, don’t lose sight of the first rule of employment: your job is to make your boss more successful.
Making your boss look good will benefit you and your team as well. Solving problems, coming up with a winning idea, or working with other groups – all of these help your boss and your team to shine! That’s good for everyone and these are the types of things that get noticed by the company as a whole. You don’t need to fawn over everything your boss does – you can keep the respect of your coworkers and help your boss at the same time.
Keep the Big Picture in Mind
If you are one of the millions of Americans that go to work and earn a paycheck, your livelihood is connected to the success of your employer, at least in the short term. Employees also feel the pain when the company struggles, and they benefit from stronger job security when the company does well. This is also true of the 10% of American workers that operate under contract instead of at-will employment.
Learn how your tasks connect to the business objectives and performance metrics and think with an owner’s mindset. Waste and inefficiency are present in every job function. Spend your energy working to improve them instead of complaining about them.
Expert Tip: The easy way to understand an owner’s mindset is to consider a rental car. You drive it aggressively and treat it poorly during the rental. Only doing the minimum necessary to avoid additional fees because there is no benefit to doing more. Do you treat your job more like a rental car or your own car? A little more effort and paying attention to the details can make both your car and your job more dependable in the long run.
A common trap that many people fall into when they first start thinking with an owner’s mindset is they want to take on huge issues. Don’t try to solve world hunger, feed a village instead. You are moving the needle for a big goal with smaller steps that show results.
Start small with bothersome things that are fully under the control of you and your manager. Having success with smaller items builds trust that you will deliver on next-level projects as well. Continue to grow your scope and influence aligned to the big picture.
Communicate Communicate Communicate
Quick, think of the top three problems you current face at work. I bet all of them are caused by poor communication or would be improved by better communication, communication really is that important.
Be sure to keep your boss apprised of major developments and how issues are progressing during your regular work. Nobody likes surprises and constant communication can really help you to build trust with your boss. It shows that you work as a cohesive unit, and it may also help you if you run into obstacles too. The more that you communicate, the more it keeps your boss in the loop, and the more that you build a sense of team—your boss comes out looking great and you have somebody to go to when the need arises.
Adapt to the preferred style of your boss. If they like email rather than text messages, make the adjustment. If they prefer in-person to phone calls, you get the picture. It can seem very basic but if your boss hasn’t explained their expectations then have a chat and align on timing as well. Does your boss expect real-time answers to text messages or is an hour response time OK when you are in a meeting? Do they send urgent and important request by email and expect every email answered within 24 hours?
Know What is Important to Your Boss
Every department in every company suffers from too many metrics that often compete with another target, or are even mutually exclusive in the worst instances. It’s always important to know what the priorities are for your team or group in general. This shows that you are paying close attention to your job responsibilities, but it also ties into the success of your boss overall. You want to be sure that you are always looking at your group as a unit, and that your work and the way that you do it helps the overall performance.
Some departments are methodical about the way they assign business objectives and performance metrics. Executive goals cascade to the next leadership level and split according to how much each team is required to contribute. Know what your department goals are and how your performance contributes. You certainly need to meet your individual targets and deliverables, and while doing so make sure that you understand where the team, department, and company are headed.
Cost-cutting sometimes drives strange decisions by people thinking they are doing the right thing. Sure the company saves a few dollars, but nobody wins if an important shipment to a key customer is late because everyone followed standard procedure and didn’t pay the additional fee for expedited shipping. Even if its not malicious compliance, these situations are opportunities for you to make your boss look good by driving the right decisions.
Expert Tip: Follow the technique of managing up with your boss to grow a healthy relationship. Learn what your boss really cares about and be sure to deliver those items. Skip the original book and get the HBR Guide to Managing Up and Across (buy on Amazon).
Call Attention to Significant Issues Early
The more time you have the more options are available. Many problems are made much worse because people don’t want to call attention to the problem until after it is 100% certain to be a problem. The classic example is you are expecting a something from a coworker and on the due date they inform you that it will be three days late. Certainly they were aware for a least a few days that were likely to miss the deadline, but they knew it would be uncomfortable so they avoided it as long as possible.
When potential concerns are brought up early there are more ways to minimize the impact. In many cases it is a simple matter to shuffle resources and get the work done or coordinate to minimize the impact. Your team can only work on problems they know about so flag at-risk items as early as possible.
Expert Tip: Know the difference between communicating an issue to your boss and handing over ownership. When you let your boss know of a problem you retain ownership unless they specifically say you should stand down.
Bring Solutions, Not Problems
Yes it is a cliche, but what does it really mean? If I know how to fix my problem, its not really a problem anymore, right? A better way to think of this tip is to give your boss choices. Whenever you feel the need to complain, hit the pause button and consider more carefully for a moment. What will resolve the situation for you? What does that look like and what would it take to make it happen?
Do some legwork yourself to see if your action plan is viable and could be successful, then bring those ideas to your boss to discuss and align on the path forward. Many times you will find that simply following this process turns something that appeared to be a major problem into a non-issue. Then you inform your boss about the situation and how you already resolved it.
Don’t go to your boss to complain about how another team is late with their deliverable, again! First, go speak with the other team leader in person to understand the situation and major contributing factors. Get their catch-up plan and recommit date, then consider how these facts impact your schedule. Now bring your action plan to your boss and have a productive conversation. In most cases your boss will give the activity some minor steer and let you run with it.
Expert Tip: Some people are concerned that asking for advice is a sign of weakness and feel like they need to bring perfect solutions to their boss. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good – perfect solutions take too long and asking for advice shows you are self aware of what you don’t know.
Remember that your boss’s problems are your problems. When you have ideas for how to make improvements, share them with your boss and work together on the implementation. You want to forge a long-term partnership Come up with ideas and share them with your boss so they can make them their own in a manner of speaking. Do your part to show them that you care by leading them to great solutions, and they will be forever grateful. Though you don’t want to give them all the credit, gestures like this go a long way in making your boss look good and also being recognized as a valuable employee in the process.
Don’t Let Your Boss Get Blindsided (No Suprises)
You want to be proactive and handle issues yourself, but you need to keep open communication channels while doing so. Your boss will have access to better information and may recognize additional factors that you are unaware exist. When significant issues pop up you need to make sure your boss is informed, even if you are working to get them resolved.
One of the most embarrassing moments as a manager is when their boss, or another department, starts talking about an issue in their area that they don’t know about themselves. If something is out of the ordinary and gets your attention, bring it to your boss’s attention as soon as possible. Text messages are a great way to communicate these items:
- Hey boss, FYI our office was evacuated for a fire alarm, we’ve been in the parking lot for about 10 min
- Dept Head X was just here making noise that we are late delivering xyz even though we told them that 123 was higher priority
- Hey boss, John and Jane are in a conference room yelling at each other, don’t know what about but its causing a disturbance
Help Keep Your Boss Organized
Managers get interrupted every 8 minutes on average, so it is no surprise that your boss doesn’t remember everything. Especially for routine important items you can keep your boss on track without looking like you are babysitting them. For example, deliver your input to a key report a couple of days before it is due, or simply ask if they need any additional information the morning of a critical meeting. You can also have a conversation within earshot of your boss and hope they overhear you.
The more organized and prepared you are for your job functions the easier it will be to expand your process to a wider scope. You want to cultivate your reputation with your boss as a dependable key contributor on their team so use this wisely on the important items, and not for every detail of day-to-day operations. You want to be their go-to person and not a second assistant.
Be a Stellar Employee and Create a Winning Combination
Any good leader knows that they are only as good as their workers. When you shine as an employee they see that you care about the overall group, and they learn very quickly that they can count on you. It’s always important that you never compromise your own principles, but solving problems or helping your group to succeed will make a dramatic impact.
The better you are at your job the more it benefits your boss. Take the time to build important relationships. Do a great job with your work and go above and beyond. Yes this benefits you, but it also shows the company that your team works well together. It shows that your boss has great leadership skills when they have an exemplary employee on their team. You might think of this as just doing your job, but it creates a winning bond with your boss and puts your team on the map.
You may have heard of guilt by association, but the opposite is also true at work. Bosses get credit for the quality of their staff, whether they had a big role to play in developing their members or not. When you engage with other teams you represent yourself, your department, and your boss. So while these next 8 tips are more centered on your performance they are also the most memorable characteristics other leaders are likely to praise (or complain about) to your boss.
Remember Your ABCs
These two concepts are basic and apply to so many workplace situations but are often forgotten. The ABC mnemonic works great to remind yourself in stressful situations.
Always Be Constructive
We would normally describe this as ‘Don’t be Negative‘ but that would violate its own rule (pun intended). Seriously though, you can be neutral or positive but don’t respond negatively – in other words think critically but don’t be critical. At work there is always the next deadline always the next goal to achieve and many people can get beat down. Instead accept the reality of business – you will always be challenged to meet higher goals, reduce costs, and do it faster. There will always be delays, last minute changes, poor communication, and mistakes made.
Focus on the strengths of you and your coworkers – take what is working and apply it to meet the business objectives. View the negatives as challenges to be solved. Instead of getting fired up about last-minute drop in requests, think about how you can complete those requests with less disruption – while in parallel work to reduce their frequency.
Expert Tip: This technique is called reframing, and it can be your best method to remain sane at work. Here is our favorite book on reframing (buy on Amazon), an easy read with great examples and practical applications
Always Be Civil (Always Be Professional)
The average employee spends more hours at work than awake at home during their working careers (source), so it is no surprise that emotions run high at times. When this happens take the discussion offline and try to diffuse the situation. Keep focus on the issues and never engage in personal attacks. You may need to disengage from the conversation and revisit after people have calmed down. Just stick to the facts and don’t exaggerate or embellish.
Another aspect of Always Be Professional is to avoid the typical office gossip. You can listen to the rumors but don’t waste time discussing them and certainly don’t be the person spreading the rumors. Most importantly, be respectful of confidential information – it needs to stay confidential. Once you’ve broken trust with your boss it is always difficult, and sometimes impossible, to get back to the place where your boss is comfortable sharing sensitive information with you again.
Meet Your Deadlines
Of course you need to get things done on time, but your goal should be to beat them when possible. You want to be the person your boss can count on, no matter what. Now this doesn’t mean you do anything they ask but if you say you will take care of something it needs to get done.
Don’t be the person your boss feels the need to double-check and watch closely because you’ve been unreliable in the past. No excuses about other things that came up and interfered, if it means that you need to stay late to finish it then that is what you do. Be responsible and meet your commitments, especially to other departments.
Engage and Contribute at Meetings
When you are at a meeting with another department, you are there to represent your team and by extension your boss. Passively sitting there and not speaking up with your inputs doesn’t provide any value. Engage and move the discussion forward to make a decision.
Expert Tip: Meetings are the #1 waste of time in every organization. Most are over attended and poorly run without a clear purpose. Read our article about The Only Three Reasons to Ever Have a Meeting
Offer Help, Don’t Wait to be Asked
If you only do your job and do it well you can expect to get a ‘meets expectations’ on your next performance evaluation, but if you are want to advance your career you need to do more to stand out. Choose your opportunity and then volunteer to take a tough assignment. This has several advantages, not the least of which you get to shape how you contribute so you are more likely to land on something that works for you.
Another cliche that is also true, Five minutes early is on time, on time is late or If you are not 5 min early you’re late. Being late is inconsiderate, self important, and unacceptable. More than 5 minutes early is excessive and can be inconvenient for the other party, 1-5 minutes early is the sweet spot. There are few things more annoying than having a number of people just sitting and waiting for a key member to arrive. Companies waste insane amounts of money each year paying salaries of people waiting because someone is late.
Cover for Your Boss
If your boss is the one late, cover for them and get the meeting started when you know the agenda and the subject matter. Then when they arrive you can give them a quick recap of the progress so far and hand the meeting back over to them.
Keep people focused and productive by motivating them with their own self interest ‘Hey team, lets get to work so we don’t have to stay late tonight or work Saturday‘. Demonstrate leadership before you have the title and show your capability.
Helping Your Boss Look Great Helps Your Career
Many people wrongfully think that being successful at work is all about creating their own winning reputation. While you do want to put in the time to build your network and create a good reputation for yourself, it’s about more than just that. The more effort that you put into helping your boss’s reputation and standing, the more that it helps you in the long run. So create your own winning reputation and take these steps to help your boss look their best along the way. It requires hard work and also a willingness to lead them to some winning solutions.
You might think that your boss doesn’t appreciate or even care about what you do to help them. Even the most difficult boss needs positive reinforcement from their employees. True leaders know that getting respect from the people that they manage matters greatly. When you do something to make your boss look good, it will be appreciated.
Employees that show dedication and self-sacrifice stand out from the crowd. Every leader wants to know the key members they can depend on during difficult situations. Anything you can do to boost their reputation only helps you in the long run—so the time and effort that you put in will help tremendously in your career growth because when your boss gets promoted they will remember who helped them along the way.