It's a truism that millennials, as a generation, were raised differently than their older cohorts. Their parents were more likely to helicopter, less likely to be authoritarian. Their schools were all about "everyone gets a trophy" and less about "winners and losers."
As a result, millennials often seem to have problems understanding the boss/employee relationship which--let's face it--is pretty much stuck in the traditional, hierarchical model that characterized parenting and schooling prior to the 1980s. (The Zoomers will doubtless experience an even worse disconnect.)
Most people (especially those relatively new to the business world) think that success in the workplace rests upon your ability to do your job well. That's only partly true. You can be doing a fantastic job without your boss knowing anything about it.
Even if your boss does know what you're accomplishing, they might assume that the best way to keep you happy is to pile on more of the same... when in fact you'd rather have a promotion, change positions, or get a hefty raise.
The only way to ensure that you get what you want out of your job, and to achieve some control over your career is to think of your boss as a resource that you must manage correctly to get what you want.
With that in mind, here's a simple list of guidelines to help millennials navigate the challenge of managing a manager, loosely based upon some past columns:
1. Create a core message.
Think of yourself as a one-person marketing group, constantly promoting and positioning your contribution--a core message, if you will. Example: rather than identifying yourself as "Chief Recruiter" you would identify yourself as "I'm our in-house expert on recruiting hard-to-find top talent."
Then, whenever you accomplish something, communicate it to your boss in the context of your that core message. For example, if your core message is the one provided in the previous paragraph, a hallway comment to your boss might be: "Hey, I just managed to get three top people at Facebook to send me their resumes. I get a real kick out of landing recruits that nobody else could get."
Here's another example: if you're in a cross-organization meeting where people are introducting themselves, rather than describing yourself by your job title (like "Lead Programmer,") you would describe yourself as "the person who'se making certain that the app development team delivers on-time and on-budget."
(Note: I recently posted this method for creating killer core messages.)
2. Be true to your word.
Every boss is a little bit paranoid that employees won't do what they've committed to do or are screwing up and hiding it. Most bosses deal with that paranoia by micromanaging, which is big pain in your *ss and makes your job more difficult. If you're being micromanaged, it's probably because you're not managing your boss well.
Therefore, whenever you tell your boss that you're going to do something, follow through as if your job depended upon it. Don't make promises and commitments that you can't keep, even if it feels as if your boss wants you to. Be truthful with your boss about what you can, and can't, accomplish.
3. Never surprise your boss.
Bosses hate surprises. Bosses are usually balancing multiple tasks, multiple people, and multiple agendas, so throwing a surprise at them is like suddenly throwing a chain saw to a juggler who's already got five bowling pins in the air.
At the risk of stretching the analogy way too far, the moment you think your project might turn into a chain saw, give your boss a heads-up. Give your boss a chance to help you keep that chain saw from firing up. And that way, if they know the chain saw is about to be tossed, they can make some space to catch and handle it.
4. Be prepared on the details.
Here's some advice I got from a real honest-to-goodness, highly-successful, baby-boomer executive:
"One of the dumbest moves you can make is to walk into the boss's office unprepared. For every hour that you'll spend meeting with your boss, you should spend 10 hours making sure you can answer any questions that the boss might ask."
Ten hours is probably overkill in today's more casual work environments where informal meetings are common. Still, most bosses will pick some aspect of your job and "drill down" to make certain that your knowledge of what you're doing isn't "a mile wide and an inch deep." If you can't answer those questions, you instantly lose credibility and it may take a long time to win that credibility back.
5. Never say (or even think) "I told you so."
You owe your boss your best input and judgment before they make a decision. If you think your boss is making a huge mistake, you should do your level best to convince them to take a different direction. However--and this is incredibly important--once your boss has made that decision, you shut up and do your level best to make sure that decision the right one.
No boss ever wants to hear--or should have to hear--"I told you so." In fact, if you even so much as hint at that, your boss will (probably rightly) think you've been secretly or unconsciously sabotaging. If you can't get on board and commit to your boss's decisions as if they were your own, then you owe it to your boss, and yourself, to find another job.
6. Don't complain; solve problems.
Some people feel better when they complain. They complain about their spouses to their friends. They complain about their work to their spouse. They complain about their kids to other parents. That's fine, but no boss--NO BOSS--wants to hear you complain about your job, your customers, your coworkers, or anything else. Your boss is not your therapist.
Complaining to your boss is just dumping your negative emotions on them. It may make you feel better, but it makes your boss feel like crap, especially if there's nothing the boss can do to improve the situation. So NEVER surface a problem unless you're looking for a solution. Ideally, you should already have some kind of solution in mind.
7. Know your #1 job.
Here's the thing that most millennials get wrong. You probably think that your #1 job is to get your assignments done on time, on budget, and at the highest quality. Wrong. Dead wrong. Your #1 job is to make your boss successful. There are no exceptions to this rule.
Just to be clear, your boss's #1 job is to make YOU more successful. Almost 100 percent the problems and conflicts that happen in the workplace and cause organizations to faile are because these key priorities get reversed.