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Whooo Says…

Dear Whooo,

I am one of four librarians who work in a medium sized urban hospital. I am fairly new to this job and to the profession, and I want to be sure and start my career off on the right foot. In my few months here, I have noticed there is a difference in how people are treated and how their ideas are received that doesn’t seem to correlate to the quality of their work. I’m not sure what is going on here; is this common? How can I ensure that my contributions are recognized favorably?



Dear Confused,

I’m so glad you wrote with this question. I think you have stumbled on a very important part of the workplace, and I congratulate you for your astute perception. You are very correct in your observation that the quality of your work is not the only criteria for job success.

One of the important aspects of any job is your relationship with your boss. This relationship is important now, and may continue to be important in your career as a source of references and mentorship. It is also an area in which you have some degree of control.

One tactic you might use is called “managing up.” According to Thomas Zuber and Erika James1, managing up is “the process of consciously working with your boss to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss and your organization.” While some may call this political manipulation or “kissing up,” really it is making a conscious effort to create a good working relationship between individuals with different perspectives. In essence, you and your boss depend on each other. You depend on her for direction, feedback, and support; she depends on you for new ideas, hard work, and contributions to the hospital’s goals.

The first thing is to develop this positive working relationship is to get to know your boss. What is your boss responsible for, and what are the pressures associated with that? What are her strengths and weaknesses? How does your boss like to work and to communicate? If your boss prefers to receive information in a written form, make it easy for her and send your ideas in a memo or email. Learn to listen to how your boss speaks and how she likes information presented. If she speaks quickly, learn to present your projects in that same style. If she likes to hear a summary rather than details, present your ideas in a short, concise message. Use your skills to listen, hear, and then talk.

The next thing you need to do is to know yourself. Recognize your own strengths and weakness, as well as your preferences. If you tend to resent your boss’ authority and are rebellious, you will need to acknowledge that and find a way to handle those feelings without damaging your relationship. Do you tend to be overly compliant? If you always agree, you may be failing to provide additional insight or needed input on critical issues.

Other important issues to consider are:

  • Make sure you know exactly what your boss expects from you. Be sure to find an opportunity to clarify what you are supposed to do before the task needs to be completed. Also, be sure to clarify priorities so you can complete your assignments in a timely and appropriate manner.
  • Keep your boss informed on your progress, needs, challenges, etc. If your boss doesn’t know what you need, she cannot effectively advocate for you.
  • Make sure to tell your boss both the good news and the bad news. Problems need to be faced and handled with courage and innovation.
  • Build trust in your relationship. Maintain a high level of honesty and dependability; honor your deadlines and commitments.
  • Respect your boss’ time. Use your initiative to solve your challenges whenever possible. Make sure any request of your boss is necessary, and a required use of her time.
  • Learn how to sell your issue. In order to get what you need or want from an organization, you need to be able to ask for it and sell your boss on the idea. Learn effective presentation skills. Use such skills as “bundling” (connecting your issue to another important issue), or by “framing” (placing your issue in a context that your boss can understand). Pay attention to your timing and present your issue when your boss is not overwhelmed with other more pressing issues.
  • Recognize your boss’ positive qualities.
  • Discover what you can learn from your boss. Each of us has special skills that have helped us to achieve our current success. Your boss may be an excellent supervisor, a skilled politician, an expert searcher, or any number of other things. Allow your boss to teach you.
  • Be a solution provider. Search for solutions to the problems you face, and then tell your boss how you have solved them. On a larger scale, if you see a problem come up in your department or in your departmental relations with others, offer to lead the effort to fix the problem. Avoid being the person who says “It’s not my job.” Again, this positive attitude and leadership offer helps to make your boss’ job easier.

By now, I’m sure you get the idea, Confused. The goal should be to make your department and organization the best that they can be. Working together and being a team player helps create a positive environment for all. The employee that can be a successful team player, helping the boss and the rest of the team to accomplish the desired goal will be well respected by all.




1Thomas J. Zuber, MD, and Erika H. James, PHD “Managing Your Boss” Fam Pract Manag. 2001 Jun; 8(6):33-36.

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