I was chatting with some friends recently, and this question came up:
What does a good working relationship with your manager look like?
This is the list I came up with. I’m not saying I’ve been perfect at all of these myself as a manager,
but it’s what I strive for, and it’s what I look for in a good manager.
- They trust you
- They ask for your input when appropriate
- They promote your work to others in the company where appropriate
- You trust them
- No surprises
- You feel safe asking them for help when you need it
- They discuss your career goals with you, and help steer you toward them
This post is just an elaboration on what I mean by each of the things on that list.
They trust you:
- to be honest with them
- to do your job
- to know yourself (your learning style, your skills, your weaknesses). A good manager will recognize if you don’t know yourself
that well, and work with you on this.
- to communicate about what you need
- They know:
- you’re not going to leave without warning
- you’re not going to try to steal their job
- you’ll ask for help when you need it
- you’ll keep them in the loop on what you’re doing
- you’ll tell them if there’s a problem on the team, or with anyone else at the company who might be having a hard time,
or behaving unprofessionally towards you.
They ask for, and actually value, your input.
They’ll talk to you about scope and requirements before they commit you or your team to a deadline.
And an important corollary: they’re psychologically ready for it, even if your input is not what they were hoping to hear.
It doesn’t count if the only kind of feedback that’s ok is positive feedback.
They listen to you, take your suggestions seriously if the status quo isn’t a great fit for you,
and try to adjust the status quo if needed. They recognize that if something isn’t working for you,
it probably isn’t working for other people, either.
They promote your work
Good managers know that the better you look, the better they look.
Smart leadership knows that successful teams get that way because they have a good manager.
What a particular team needs can vary widely: from a strong hand that keeps everyone on the same page,
to someone who just stays out of the way and helps give the team protected time to do what they do best. The best managers can do both, as needed.
Good managers know that helping you get promoted or move to another team is good for them,
because it means you’ll be a loyal ally and collaborator even if you’re somewhere else in the company.
You trust them:
- to be honest with you
- to keep you in the loop on things you need to know to do your job
- to do their job. To be clear on what that is, and to communicate with you about how they view their role.
- to know themselves (their insecurities, their strengths and weaknesses)
- to understand that you’re not going to be exactly the same as them in every way, and that’s a good thing
- to express appreciation for your work
to introduce you to relevant people at the company, and set you up for successful relationships with those people. That might mean
validating your expertise when you need someone to back you up, and it might mean letting you stand on your own two feet when you don’t.
to try to help you: when you know what you need to be more effective at your job. Also: when you don’t know what you need, but they do.
to give you space to do your job. They will stay in their own lane.
to not promote your work as their own.
to be clear with you if they think you’re not doing a good job
to give you instructions on what needs to improve, as well as time to improve those things
to not suddenly fire you if you make a mistake
to be straight with you if your performance is a real concern
to follow through on their word
- If they say that something is going to happen that will make your job infinitely easier,
and it’s their responsibility to make sure it happens, they’re going to do their best to make it happen in a reasonable time frame,
whether that’s something technical, or a promotion, or a team offsite. You’ll receive periodic updates if it’s a long-running process.
You won’t be hearing an endless stream of excuses for why it hasn’t happened yet.
No surprises: planning and transparency
Your manager provides clarity on roles and responsibilities: both theirs and yours.
They clearly communicate expectations for you, regarding:
- your projects (ownership, scope, requirements, timelines)
- your teammates
- your tech leads
- collaborations with other teams
- relationships with representatives from third-party services or clients
You feel safe asking them for help
You feel encouraged to ask for help, whether that’s related to technical questions,
career questions, problems with people on your team, or problems with other people in the company.
They have your back, and you know they’re not going to judge you for struggling or admitting you don’t know how to handle something.
They discuss your career goals with you
The best managers:
won’t try to force you into a role you don’t want, or bait-and-switch you from what you originally
agreed when you interviewed. If your current role isn’t quite what you want to be doing,
they work with you to focus on the good parts, and advocate for you to be able to do more of what you enjoy.
help steer you toward projects and opportunities to grow your skills and promote your work,
both within the company and outside of it. They encourage you to be ambitious.