There are many strategies out there on how to get ahead in your career. Whilst it is obvious that you are responsible for driving your own career and putting in most of the work, there are other key allies that are critical to your career success. These may include a mentor, a coach and a sponsor. One strategic ally that is often ignored is the Line Manager. Today I would like to focus on how to make your Line Manager your biggest cheerleader so you can achieve your career goals.
A Line Manager is the person that you directly report to. He/she would be responsible for deliverables of his/her team whilst reporting to a higher level manager. Other duties will also include setting objectives for his/her team, evaluating performance, providing on the job training and mentoring.
It is in your best interests to have a good working relationship with your Line Manager. Your salary increases, your bonuses ,your visibility within the organisation and overall growth prospects within your organisation are all tied to your relationship with your Line Manager and how he/she perceives you. I know it will not always be possible to get along well with your Line Manager. For the purposes of this post, I am going to assume that your Line Manager is a normal human being who is committed to supporting your growth and development. In a different future post I will also share how to navigate when your relationship with your Line Manager is not so great.
I started my career as a graduate trainee in the marketing department of a well known global food company. After 18 months I was promoted to Brand Manager. Even though I was a manager, I did not have anyone reporting time directly. I had a few other promotions that still did not include managing others. My people management responsibilities only came 8 years later. I had a team of three Brand Managers reporting directly to me, sitting in three different countries. Today I still lead a team of managers all based in different countries. I will share my perspectives as a leader and what I believe is the best way to impress your Line Manager. I will also share what has worked for me as a subordinate over the years.
Your Line Manager can be your biggest cheerleader and advocate if you are strategic about it. Please note I am not talking about bootlicking and back biting your team mates in order to win favours. I am referring to proper ethical behaviour that you would not be embarrassed to share publicly.
1. Make your boss look good. The best way to do that is to deliver great results consistently. I remember having to share my monthly team results with the senior leadership in one of my previous roles. Team members who had great results made me look good. They made meetings easier and it was also easier to advocate for and push forward such team members when opportunities arose. When you consistently fail to meet agreed targets and you continuously give excuses even for things within your control, you make it difficult for your Line Manager to help you advance in your career.
2. Be reliable and deliver on your promises. There is nothing as frustrating as a team member who is not reliable. Missing deadlines and showing up late for important meetings aren’t ways to behave if you are trying to get ahead. And that would surely not win you any points with your Line Manager. When you make promises, fulfil them. Manage expectations and do your job well.
3. Know your Line Manager – each line Manager that you have is going to be different. I am currently on my nineth Line Manager. They have all been different. Some preferred to be updated on projects more often. Others didn’t want to be involved in the details. Some preferred when I stood up to them and voiced my opinions fearlessly. Others would take that as being challenged and did not like it. You have to know your Line Manager’s preferences and what appeals to them in different scenarios. Knowing your Line Manager helps you navigate appropriately and avoid stepping on each other’s toes and creating unnecessary animosity.
4. Adopt a growth mindset– as a Line Manager myself, nothing is as off putting as a team member who has a negative attitude and has all the reasons why something cannot be done. Be open to continous learning and trying out new things to solve business challenges. When you face challenges, do not wait until it’s too late to ask for help.
5. Understand your Line Manager’s KPIs and how you can help him/her achieve those – At some point in my career I was a Key Accounts Manager, looking after one of the biggest retail chain in the country. My then Manager taught me a lesson one day as we were driving for a business review with this customer. He told me if I wanted to deliver our sales targets as a business, i had to fully understand the KPIs of the buyers that I was meeting with. If I helped retail buyers achieve their own KPIs, they would also help me achieve my own. Understand what KPIs your Line Manager is measured on and play your part in helping him/her delivering those. An open discussion is always best. Do not make assumptions, ask directly what his/her priorities are and how you can help.
6. Be a team player– I really do not trust team members who sacrifice other team members in order to get ahead or out of trouble. It’s called “throwing others under the bus”. If my direct report can do that to one of their team members, I would not be surprised that they can do the same to me if the situation presented itself. In most organisations, teamwork is critical to delivering overall business goals. The “lone ranger” mentality doesn’t work in a corporate setting. Show some level of maturity and avoid being “that person ” who is always complaining about other team members to the manager. Only escalate issues that you genuinely cannot resolve on your own.
7. Keep the relationship professional – it is always advisable to keep your relationship with your Line Manager professional. Avoid oversharing unnecessary information that might make them see you in a negative light. Your weekend escapades are exactly that, for the weekend with your friends and not to be shared with your Line Manager. I am not in any way suggesting that you don’t share necessary personal challenges that impact on your ability to work in the name of keeping it professional. As a manager, I would want to know if a team member has challenges that impact their ability to work. A sick child, parent or relative are some examples. Whilst these might be personal issues, I am human enough to understand their impact on ability to work and put in place necessary support.
Showing yoursef as a reliable team member to your Line Manager is critical. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am making an assumption that your Line Manager is very secure in their capabilities and committed to helping you grow.
What other ways have worked for you to get your Manager to be your biggest cheerleader? Please share in the comments section.