Developing a Peer Relationship with Your Boss

Rishit Shah

Senior Director of Engineering at Podium



I had a rough first year with one of my managers at a company I worked for in the past. He was fairly young and managing managers for the first time in his career. He had high expectations but was quite a hands-off person. As a result, the combination of these factors caused me a lot of anxiety because I was very much focused on impressing him and building credibility yet he would never tell me how I was doing or if I was meeting his expectations. Nothing that I did in those first 12 months worked in mending my anxiety.

Actions taken

What I came to realize was that my boss did not invest enough in personal relationships. Therefore, to resolve my unease I had to take the initiative and invest in our relationship, thereby building trust and favoring the goal that we would one day meet on the same page. I began by viewing our relationship differently. Instead of placing ourselves in the boxes of 'manager' and 'direct report' or as a 'boss' and 'employee' relationship, I transitioned into thinking of us more as peers. Then while having this new framework in mind, I took steps that increased the number and value of interactions that we had together. I would invite him out to dinner where we would talk about the challenges that I was facing, and I wouldn't expect anything in return. More so, before I was updating him during 1:1s but that wasn't working so I started sending him a summary of the events that were happening during the week before we had our 1:1. This allowed him to pick specific topics that interested him. I also began explicitly asking him for advice on key items where I thought he would add value granting him the opportunity to display his strengths where I had my weaknesses.

Lessons learned

  • The key factor in a relationship with your boss is trust. If you don't have trust between you and your manager then it is never going to work out.
  • Managing upwards should not be viewed in a hierarchical manner. Instead, understand how the two of you can leverage each other's strengths while completing each other's weaknesses. Then your relationship will become a force by additive nature rather than making it an even sum game.
  • There is boilerplate advice out there about how you should conduct your relationship with your superior. For example, the boss is always right. Never question your boss. Communication between the two of you should be spoken in your bosses language. Or it is your duty to reduce his or her time. Ultimately, your goal is to do what is right for the team and what is right for the business. You just need to figure out how to do that based on your own particular situation and relationship with your boss.

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Rishit Shah

Senior Director of Engineering at Podium

Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationFeedback TechniquesCareer Growth

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