What’s really important to your boss?

Here at Zoomly HQ, we’ve been road-testing a new workshop about ‘How to manage upwards’. So far, so good: our lovely clients dive right in. One of the Big Insights that participants take away from the session is what really matters to their boss.

That’s important for several reasons:

  • Our relationship with our boss is the most important professional relationship we can have – it’s critical to our development and career progress
  • We often have multiple bosses, so ‘the boss’ can be a many-headed creature (I just resisted saying ‘beast’ – did you notice? – let’s stay nice)
  • What’s important to us may not be important to our boss
  • What’s important to our boss had darn well better be important to us!
  • We may be focusing on entirely the wrong priorities

So how to establish what really matters to your boss?

Ask them. Pick your moment carefully: don’t just launch into an interrogation about their priorities. Check when would be a good time. At the end of a 1:1 conversation perhaps, or on your way back from a meeting together. While you’re about it, ask them what success looks like to them. What do they really value about their job and your organisation? What’s important to them beyond work? How do they know someone is doing a great job (and a lousy one)?

Ask colleagues who have worked with them for longer than you have. Again, pick your moment carefully, and position it clearly as asking for the person’s advice, which you’re seeking because you want to work well with your boss. What makes your boss’s day? What really winds them up? What advice do they have about how you can add to the effectiveness of your boss’s team?

Observe and listen. Pay close attention to what your boss says and does, both face to face and in writing (emails, chats, documents, etc). Certain words will repeat over and over – what do they signify? A desire for perfection, a push to a deadline, a drive to hit the numbers? You may need to adapt your style to better suit your boss’s priorities and objectives, as well as their preferred way of doing things.

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