News & Insight
December 2002

Women in Management: Learning to Manage the Boss

Men and women approach the boss quite differently.

In their book, What Every Successful Woman Knows, WJM Associates Chairman Bill Morin and Janice Reals Ellig point out that women generally want to be friendly and liked; consequently, their instinct is to build a relationship with their supervisor on a personal basis. In contrast, men tend to regard their supervisor simply as "The Boss" in a more or less command-and-control way, and not as someone with whom you would build a personal relationship.

To help build an effective working relationship with their supervisor, women need to learn how to "manage the boss." This doesn't mean "manipulate"; it means learning enough about the boss's personality and style to make a difference in his or her career.

To start the process, women in management should ask themselves three questions:

What makes the boss tick? Bosses are people, too. They have good days and bad days. They have "hot buttons" that incite enthusiasm or anger, and "cold buttons" that can chill even the best ideas. Learning to manage the boss begins with learning to read his or her personality -- early in the day and early in the week. Check with a trusted colleague to divine the boss's mood before presenting him or her with heavy news -- good or bad. Delivering even good news to a boss in a foul mood can result in a lost "win." Pay attention, too, to other clues about the boss's style. Does she like to stop by someone's office and chat, or is she more formal with subordinates? Is his office filled with pictures of the family, or just neat rows of books and stacks of paper? A keen eye will tell you a lot.

What is the boss's management style? To make real contact with the boss, it's important to understand him as a professional and to connect with him on those terms. Does he lead by dictate, consensus, committee or delegation? What kind of manager is she -- an analytical thinker who needs time to deliberate, or someone who shoots first and asks questions later? Observe your boss at meetings, in impromptu discussions with peers, and at company functions. How he or she behaves in those situations can be telling.

What does the boss need (whether he knows he needs it or not)? Once you begin to understand the boss as a person and professional, figure out what's missing -- and provide it. Is he a "big-picture" guy who's fuzzy on the details? Then be ready to offer them. Or is she strong on strategy, but weak on implementation? Then become her best "go to" person. If the boss is any good, he or she will quickly recognize your value and become an asset to you in your own career development.

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