My Best Career Tip? Keep Your Boss Happy!

I’ve been a professional trainer for most of my career, and I can give literally dozens of career tips off the top of my head that are proven and practical—and can be put into practice by just about anyone. But there’s one simple tip that works better than any other: Make your boss happy! That’s it. No onion-like layers to peel back in order to find the true meaning. Simply make your boss happy and chances are great that you will be happy, too. (By the way, many of my life-partnered friends live by the somewhat similar saying, “As long as my spouse is happy, the rest of the family is happy,” and both of these adages seem to hold true!)
But let’s get back to your work life … other than yourself, no one has a bigger impact on your career than your boss. And that’s why it’s critical to build a strong relationship that ensures your boss is on your side.
When I say this to people, especially younger professionals who don’t have as much life experience as older workers, I always explain myself a bit further. I don’t mean that you must be best buds or even close friends with your boss. Nor am I suggesting that you “suck up” to your boss in a way that feels demeaning or compromising to your personal integrity. And I completely understand that keeping your boss happy is a whole lot easier to do with some bosses than with others.
However, I guarantee that no matter what your boss is like, if you follow these five steps, your relationship with your boss will be stronger than ever before. I also promise that even if you work for Attila the Hun incarnate, these tips will work on them as well!
Let’s examine each one:

1. Know your boss’s expectations and goals.
If you have no idea what your boss is trying to accomplish, how can you make sure that you’re helping? Knowing your boss’s objectives and priorities is the most crucial step to building a strong relationship. If you’re working on multiple tasks and projects, make sure you know exactly which ones are most important to your boss and prioritize your time accordingly.
Bonus tip for if you have a difficult boss: get your boss to give you his or her goals and priorities in writing. Here’s an easy way to accomplish this: ask to have a planning meeting with your boss and take notes during the conversation—and be sure to share your notes with your boss afterwards, to make sure they agree with your take-away summary. That way, you’re better covered for later, in case they change their mind—or if they forget what they said altogether!

2. Adapt to your boss’s management style—don’t expect them to adapt to yours.
It can be challenging to work for someone whose operational and management style is the opposite of your own. For instance, if you love a lot of autonomy and your boss is a micro-manager, you can both become stressed out as you attempt to work out your relationship. Similarly, it can be just as stressful if you prefer a ton of direction and feedback, but your boss simply wants to hand you a project, walk away, and know that it’ll be completed properly. Once you’ve identified your boss’s style, accept that he or she probably isn’t going to change dramatically. So be as flexible as you can to show support for your boss’s preferred work method.
3. Approach your boss with solutions, not problems.
Let’s say you’re working along, and you see something funny in the data you’ve been crunching. Don’t just pass it along to your boss—instead, see if you can’t diagnose the problem and fix it first. In certain instances, and as long as you don’t come across like a self-important braggart, you can then tell your boss about it afterwards under the guise of an “FYI.” (Just remember to not overstep your boundaries or step on anyone’s toes in the process.)
If you see a potential roadblock on a project that you can’t—or shouldn’t— fix yourself (remember the boundaries and the toes), bring the problem to your boss accompanied by a few solutions to get around it. Or, even if you have no clue how to fix it, let your boss know you at least tried to come up with a remedy or two. After all, your boss is the boss for a reason and should be able to take over at some point. The more your boss can depend on you to be a problem solver, rather than someone who merely shows up and hands them over, the better off you’ll be, and the happier your boss will be to have you on the team.

4. Build your skills to complement your boss’s style.
This particular tip is a fantastic way to develop a strong working partnership with your boss. Is your boss a big picture sort of person? Be the one who knows all the details. If your boss isn’t a people person, then focus on developing positive working relationships with employees in other departments. Does your boss hate early mornings? Offer to be the one who comes in at 8am to answer the phones. When you can shore up any weaknesses in your boss’s style, together you become a more effective and powerful team.

 5. Go above and beyond whenever you can.
Find opportunities to exceed your boss’s expectations of you—initiative matters more than you may think. In fact, many bosses are wishing and hoping for someone to come along and lessen their burden—but like many of us, they’re simply reluctant to ask for assistance. Not sure what else you could be doing to help your boss? The easiest way to find out is to ask! Your boss will appreciate your desire to do all you can.
Bonus tip: Volunteer to attend a meeting in your boss’s place, providing it involves something you know a lot about. (Do not try to fake it here if you really shouldn’t be in the meeting—it’ll backfire on you.) It’s a rare boss who will turn down a chance to avoid a meeting, assuming it’s not critical that they be there. If you go and do well, you’ll show your boss that you can represent him or her constructively and professionally. Additionally, your attendance shows the other people in the meeting that your boss trusts your knowledge and skills. And finally, simply put, it’s your chance to shine! (Bosses tend to love shiny employees.)

So there you have it. Your relationship with your boss is worthy of your time and attention, so if you’re willing to give these tips a try, you’re sure to witness improvements—and who wouldn’t want to work with a happy boss?

Author's Bio: 

Denise M. Dudley is a professional trainer and keynote speaker, author, business consultant, and founder and former CEO of SkillPath Seminars, the largest public training company in the world, which provides 18,000 seminars per year, and has trained over 12 million people in the US, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and the UK. Denise holds a Ph.D. in behavioral psychology, a hospital administrator's license, a preceptor for administrators-in-training license, and is licensed to provide training to medical professionals in the United States and Canada. She's also a certified AIDS educator, a licensed field therapist for individuals with agoraphobia, a regularly featured speaker on the campuses of many universities across the US, and the author of Simon and Schuster’s best-selling audio series, “Making Relationships Last.” Denise speaks all over the world on a variety of topics, including management and supervision skills, leadership, assertiveness, communication, personal relationships, interviewing skills, and career readiness. Denise’s latest book, “Work it! Get in, Get noticed, Get promoted,” is currently available on, and is receiving all 5-star customer reviews.

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