27 September 2023

Table turning: How to put your boss to work for you

Start the conversation

May Busch* has some strategies for building trust with your boss and turning them into your greatest fan and promoter of your future career.

If you want to have bigger and better opportunities in your career, it’s crucial to have a good working relationship with your boss.

Having a strong relationship depends on building trust.

Trust that you’re going to get the job done; trust that you’re going to be supportive, and trust that you are going to represent the team well, internally and externally.

While trust is definitely a two-way street, let’s focus on the part that you can control: How well you are building trust with your boss.

In my experience, there are three ways that you can build trust and they’re interrelated.

Good Contracting Upfront:

This is about how you set expectations at the start of your relationship.

I have an example of what good contracting upfront does not look like.

When I was very junior in my career my new boss gave me an assignment to put together a one-pager on each client to help us prepare for some meetings.

I did a ton of work and created these highly detailed one-pagers.

I proudly handed them in to my boss and his reaction was: That’s way too much detail.

“I wanted a quick-and-dirty brief — and frankly I would’ve preferred to have it a day or two ago.”

Good contracting upfront involves making sure you understand the task or project you’ve been asked to do.

You need to ask questions to gain clarity on what’s expected of you.

Knowing what results you’re shooting for will give you the awareness to negotiate for more time or resources if you need them.

Knowing what ‘done’ looks like will prevent you from going over the top and wasting time like I did.

Knowing your project timeline and milestones gives you a helpful framework for updating your boss on what’s going on.

Operational Transparency:

This is about making your progress, and potentially your process, visible to your boss as you go.

Think about restaurants where you can see the kitchen and the chefs working from your table.

Studies have shown that when the diner sees the effort, they value the experience more.

When the chefs see the impact they’re having, they feel more appreciated and are more likely to go the extra mile.

Think about how you can create the same effect in your work situation.

Operational transparency could show up as giving progress updates to your boss as you complete each milestone.

Or you could be a bit more creative with your updates and perhaps even involve your boss by saying something like:

We’re about to finish phase one, and if you have additional thoughts that you’d like us to incorporate, please let me know before the weekend so that we can make that happen.”

Remember that giving a progress update does not mean sharing all the gory details.

Share the amount that will make your boss feel comfortable that they can trust you.

Operational transparency will help your boss understand and appreciate the value you’re delivering.

It can also help them trust that you’re going to get your job done, which is especially helpful if your boss is a micromanager or if you’re working remotely.

Moments of Delight:

This is about surprising your boss in a positive way.

For maximum effect, only do this occasionally because if you do it all the time then it will become your new ‘normal’.

As an example, consider the case of Oberoi Hotels, a luxury hotel group in India.

They implemented a policy where they gave their staff members a small budget that they could spend whenever they saw an opportunity to delight a guest.

The hotel staff could go ahead and execute right then and there as they saw fit.

This policy has resulted in the hotel consistently receiving very high ratings.

In your case, creating these moments of delight means tailoring these experiences to your boss and what counts as great in their eyes.

It might be that you show extra creativity or finish something way before the deadline.

Or you may look to solve a problem or take care of something that your boss doesn’t like to do.

You might also consider how to make your boss look good in front of their boss.

Or you could bring something you learned elsewhere into your current work and surprise your boss with a new perspective or new strategies.

Creating moments of delight for your boss makes you memorable for great reasons.

It can turn your boss into your fan and it helps you showcase your unique strengths.

When it comes to your relationship with your boss, having their trust is essential.

It’s what can make the difference between achieving the success you deserve versus stagnating in your career.

Building trust is an ongoing endeavour that takes time, effort and multiple touch points.

Like any worthwhile relationship, you have to work at it.

While it takes a great deal of effort to build, trust can be destroyed in just moments.

That’s why it pays to focus and make sure that you continue to build trust with your boss on an ongoing basis.

It’s really worth the effort.

Which of these three strategies will most move the needle for you in building trust with your boss?

* May Busch helps leaders and their organisations achieve their full potential. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared on May’s blogsite.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.