Who’s the first boss who impressed you? I was lucky early on in my publishing career to synch up with a boss who was also a mentor and a friend–someone who cared about me first as a person and second as a member of our team. Our favorite managers, though they all look and act differently, multiply the quantity of them and the quantity of us to get a result that’s far greater than what we imagined we could do.
Let me explain: I have a personal metric–an unproven but nonetheless strongly held belief–that I should be adding at least five times my pay in contributed value for any job I do. Minimum. In my mind, a paycheck is an investment in our capacity and our return back to the company. So if I make $100, my company’s investment in my services, I should generate the equivalent of at least $500 in revenue contribution. The best bosses put a multiplier on that–helping us get to $1000, $5000, and beyond–because they accelerate what’s possible with that $100. That’s a win for the company, and it’s a win for us, because as we grow and improve, that earned interest rolls with us, job to job, new boss to new boss.
So how do the best managers help us multiply our value? Five simple things.
1. They Set Goals
Look for bosses who set goals that spell out the expected wins, tie those wins to expected timelines, and remove the barriers that might hinder success. Think: “In the next 18 months, close 50 new accounts valued at $3000 of business or more each.” Then they help you secure the business terms you need to close the deals you bring in.
If you don’t have goals written down with metrics and a clear picture of success, get that conversation on the calendar right away. You can open it with, “I’d like to verify that what I consider my most important work is aligned with your expectations. Could you go over my list of goals with me?” Bring a list of the goals that make sense to you and start there, aiming for a collaborative conversation.
The best managers know, on the flip side, that not setting goals, setting nebulous or changing targets, or adding steps that make goals harder is counterproductive. Beware the boss who says “I think x would probably be good enough” when x is what you’re tasked with or the boss who holds you accountable to goals that were never formally communicated.
2. They Get Specific
Which do you prefer: “Hey, good job in that meeting?” or “Hey, we were really impressed with how proactive you were in requesting that client change. It saved us a good week of back and forth.” The best managers are specific–when they’re coaching and when they’re congratulating. They don’t leave to broad interpretation what they can communicate succinctly right now. Specificity includes a message, timely examples that illustrate the point, and clarity on the value of your actions (good or bad).
If your manager isn’t there yet, when something’s right or wrong, ask clarifying questions. “I’m glad the report was helpful. What about it hit the mark so I can build on that next time?”
3. They Help Pave Smooth Roads
Who doesn’t love a boss who makes it easier to get your work done? The best managers help you remove the speed bumps that slow success–you just need to bring them your process, tell them what needs to change and what your plan is, and ask for their support in going faster.
Equally important: they don’t put up random speed bumps to test you or trap you in your process. They like you best when you’re zooming. Help your boss get there by trying, “Can you help me? There’s an obstacle I need to get around, and after considering several solutions, I’d like to do x. Here’s why…”
4. They’re Organization-Minded
Aligning with your company’s larger initiatives is critical to job relevance and stability. Managers who read org priorities and translate them into team and individual priorities buy you a piece of the action. This has nice side benefits: you’re always a relevant commodity because the work you’re doing is high priority and visible to the right people at the right times.
If you’re not clear already, ask what targets the organization is aiming for in the next 12 months. Offer a few probing questions about how your boss sees those initiatives impacting your team. Suggest that you chart your group’s path to align with company priorities.
5. They’re Real
The one quality I’d argue is most important in the best managers is that they tell it as it is. You get the real person, the real message, the real connection. No censored orchestration at the expense of the team knowing how to be successful.
Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re loosey goosey with confidential information or careless with sensitive strategy, but it means you can look each other in the eye. Take the first step by being real yourself–voice an opinion, even if it’s unpopular. Say what’s hard to say, tactfully. Share something about your life when it makes sense in conversations. Care about the whole person. When people are real with each other, amazing things happen, such as ego getting out of the way, decision making happening around facts, and dissent leading to better outcomes.
You’ll know you’re working with the right boss when you a) leave your meetings happier than when you entered b) welcome challenges as opportunities to accelerate rather than reasons to disengage c) know where you stand and why d) work toward a tomorrow that matters to you and to the company.
It’s both that easy and that difficult.