Build a strong relationship with your boss, with or without their help

Even if your manager is more robot than human, you can have an effective bond

Dear Bob ...

I report to a very bright, hard-working manager. The challenge, as I've told him, is that depending on the day and his mood, my experience of him ranges from human to machinelike.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Sometimes you have to create your own opportunities, as Bob Lewis points out in "Be your own boss, even if you have a boss." | Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

Our company is shrinking to reduce costs and, of course, working to do more with less. There's more pressure and less time available for being human, so it's getting worse.

I'm 59. My manager is 45. My feedback from when I was his age was that I was sometimes seen as aloof and distant, so I recognize the symptoms, but not what to do about it from this side of the relationship. Any thoughts?

- Roboticizing

Dear Roboticizing ...

Different people have different emotional needs at the office. That's as true of managers as it is of the people who report to them, as you know from your own journey. Add to that a common situation: Companies don't always promote people into management roles because of their leadership skills.

Nor should they, necessarily -- our management dialog has been out of balance for some time. At the end of the day, effective management is what pays the bills. Leadership is an important management technique for getting the most out of employees, and I don't want to understate its importance. From the perspective of business value, though, management is the set of skills required to get work out the door.

Which brings us to your manager and what you should do about him. I'd suggest buying him a badge. One side displays the word "Human," and the other displays the word "Machine." Ask him to flip it to whichever side reflects his mood.

Not really -- tempting as it is, unless you have a truly excellent relationship with the guy, it won't help you. And if you do, you don't need my advice, which is actually quite simple and straightforward:

  • Do your job well and get work out the door without requiring your boss's attention.
  • Keep your boss informed of whatever he should be aware of.
  • Be as alert as you can to which side of the badge he'd have on display were he to wear one, and interact with him accordingly.
  • Maintain your own sense of humor about this, and don't expect emotional satisfiaction from your interactions with your boss.

If you decide you need more emotional satisfaction from your work -- nothing wrong with that -- you might decide it's time to find a new manager with whom you can develop a better rapport.

- Bob

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