THE BLOG

Reversed Leadership: How to Manage Your Boss

10/30/2013 05:57 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

Only 30 percent of employees are happy at work; the rest tend to dislike their bosses. If you are in the majority, keep reading...

Although we don't get to pick our managers, we can learn to deal with them. And when we do, work is much more enjoyable. Our career success is more depended on our ability to get along with our boss than on our actual talent or job performance, not least because our talent and job performance are judged by our boss.

So, how can you manage your boss?

[Note: For the sake of simplicity, and given the unfortunate fact that in most parts of the world managers are more commonly male than female, let us assume that your boss is a man. This does not imply that men are better managers than women, or vice-versa].

The critical step for improving your relationship with your boss is to understand him. Managers are just like any other human: unique but predictable; complex, until you realize what makes them tick. The best way to manage your boss is to profile him. Figure out who he is, what he wants, and why he does what he does; work out the bright and the dark side aspects of his personality. Then, adjust your behaviors to fit with his style, values, and interests. For example:

Is your boss impulsive? Does he act before he thinks? Is he more driven by feeling rather than reason? If so, then be sure to tune into his mood states. When he is annoyed, avoid arguments or, even better, stay away from him. Think of him as erratic weather and keep checking the weather forecast to be adequately dressed. When he is uplifted and excited, pretend to share his enthusiasm and rejoice his positive energy. At the same time, try not to get carried away -- things are never as great or as tragic as his temperament suggests.

Is your boss creative? Does he jump from one idea to the next? Is he bored by routine and constantly thriving for change? Does he get lost in his own train of thought? If so, you better avoid any discussion of admin details, bureaucratic processes, and rules -- in fact, be ready to share your boss' appetite for challenging not just external, but also internal, rules. In addition, be sure to admire his ideas and show fascination for his eccentric suggestions, especially when others fail to understand them.

Is your boss the quiet type? Does nobody know what he thinks, what he does, or why he does what he does? In that case, respect his privacy. Never ask questions or request feedback. Respect his psychological distance and you will make him feel comfortable. Restrict communication to email exchanges and impersonal notes. Stick to small talk or no talk at all. Importantly, avoid disclosing any personal information about yourself -- it will make him feel awkward.

Is your boss a hedonistic workaholic? Does your boss love his work? Is the office his favourite place on earth? Does he want to be your friend and have parties with his employees? In that case, you better join the party! Most of your colleagues will, and, if you never join, they will regard you as boring, snobby or unfriendly. Make an effort to integrate and your boss and colleagues will appreciate your attitudes. And remember that for your boss your ability to socialize and make his time at work more enjoyable is more important than your efficiency or dedication to the job.

Is your boss neurotic? Does he worry a lot? Is he generally stressed? Does he have a negative view on life? If this is the case, then try to be his coach. Contain him, counsel him, and empathize with him. All he wants is to feel safe. Protect him from stress agents and make him feel at ease. Soak up some of his pressure by doing for him what he hates doing and being a reliable source of help. Employees can often play the role of friends and therapists for their bosses, which will make them indispensable.

Is your boss Machiavellian? Is he obsessed with office politics? Does he enjoy manipulating and influencing people? Is he a charming networker? In that case, be sure to play the game. Feed him gossip, work as his secret agent, spy for him and stay close to his inner circle. In addition, try not to trust him completely...

Is your boss narcissistic? Is he his own biggest admirer? Does he crave for people's attention and admiration? This type of manager is the easiest to recognize. If you have a narcissistic boss all you need to do let him see you as a fan - be a good audience and he will love you and promote you.

In addition, some general rules for managing your boss will apply regardless of your his profile. Let him take credit for your achievements (and don't expect him to acknowledge your contribution, even in private). Be predictable -- let him know what to expect from you; it will give him a sense of control. Finally, try to help him get promoted. If your boss has a boss, he is probably trying to work out how to deal with him. If you dislike your boss and help him move up in the organization, you will solve two problems: first, you will make your boss like you; second, you will no longer have him as a boss, but his support will be even more instrumental than ever.