How to Manage Your Boss’s Expectations


March 10, 2013   •   Fact checked by Dumb Little Man

Does your boss try to coax a little more out of you each week?

It’s what bosses do, right?

Bosses are paid to manage their people to optimal performance.

You know this, but you aren’t using this knowledge to your advantage.

With the right techniques, you can manage your boss so she is putty in your hands.

I had a boss who knew what was going on in every department. He was sharp.

Nothing got by him. If you tried to pull something over on him, he would come down on you like 5 horses on a snake.

He wouldn’t stop until you knew that you had messed up and realized you shouldn’t do anything like that again.

He rarely fired anyone because they usually never made the same mistake again.

The thing that most people didn’t understand was that you could get away with almost anything as long as you were open and honest about it. It helped to be a high performer, but this wasn’t a necessity.

You could take a long lunch as long as you explained why you did what you did before or after the fact. You just better be sure that you beat him to it.

I went on a long lunch one day. I didn’t expect to take a long lunch, but I was with a friend and the first restaurant we went to was packed, so we tried going to another restaurant. The second option wasn’t any better, but we had to stay because option 3 probably wouldn’t have been any better either. I stayed out for 2 hours.

Luckily, I knew just what to do.

When I got back to work, here is what I did: I went into his office and asked him a question about our marketing plan, and he didn’t look up. Then I told him the story of my crazy lunch. He then looked up and launched into his own story about this waiter who messed up every single thing he ordered from the drinks to the appetizers to the main course. We laughed at this boob of a waiter and everything was cool.

We transitioned back into work, talked about a few ideas and I ran with the idea that he liked the best.

He didn’t mind that I took an extra lunch because he knew that I worked hard. He appreciated my candor. He also wanted someone to talk to and bounce ideas off of.

I understand what he wanted and expected and knew how to meet his needs. I messed up a lot, but I also tried things that brought me praise.

You have an opportunity to create a relationship with your boss that meets both of your needs. It’s not a one way street. Most bosses don’t want to just dictate with an iron fist. Well, hopefully yours doesn’t because if she does then it’s time to find a more flexible boss.

You don’t have to do everything your boss wants, but you do have to understand what she needs. Your boss’s core needs are going to keep you in her good graces, so you can do some of the cool stuff that matters to you.

5 Core Concepts You Need to Know

I’m going to break down what you need to know to manage your boss’s expectations. Remember that every boss is different, so tailor theses concepts to fit your needs.

1. Know Your Boss’s Needs

Your boss has her core needs at work. She knows what needs to get done and what can wait until next week. It’s your job to know what those things are, and make sure you do them. If you aren’t taking care of these core needs then you will cause a lot of anger.

The best way to understand your boss’s needs is to do two things:

  1. Ask your boss what she needs.
  2. Notice what makes your boss angry (and what doesn’t).

That’s it. Remember, actions speak louder than words, so watch her reactions to make sure you know that you are taking care of the important stuff.

2. Leverage Your Boss’s Moods

Your boss has her good and bad moods. It’s your job to be aware of how your boss is feeling. If she is in a testy mood then don’t take a 2 hour lunch. You may even want to take a shorter lunch to make sure you stay on her good side.

If your boss is feeling good, you know that you may be able to suggest a new project that you’ve been dying to work on. I had one boss who was always receptive to new ideas on Friday mornings, so I waited until that time to suggest new projects.

You have to work with what you’ve got. You can’t be blind to your boss’s moods. I had a co-worker who was amazing at this. He would avoid our boss at any sign of a negative mood. As soon as our boss would be in a good mood again, he would always schmooze. He knew how to leverage our boss’s mood in order to get the cherry projects.

3. Make Your Boss Laugh

The science of laughter is still a big mystery. No one really knows why we laugh. What we do know is that laughter bonds us.

When you make your boss laugh, you are developing a bond that helps you manage your boss’s expectations. If you can make your boss laugh then you will probably have an easier time talking to her.

Knowing that you can talk openly with your boss will allow you to talk about things you like and don’t like about your job. If you’re making her laugh, you are probably going to help create the rules of your job.

4. Appreciate Your Boss’s Sense of Humor

Being able to make your boss laugh is important to a good relationship, but it’s not always easy to do, especially if you have a stickler of a boss. The next best tool is to find pleasure in your boss’s sense of humor.

People love to make other people laugh. If your boss’s sense of humor is a little weird, then try to roll with it because it will make your job and relationship much more enjoyable and easier.

I had two co-workers who would laugh at all my boss’s jokes. In the beginning of my career I refused to laugh at my boss’s jokes. I was so critical of his sense of humor. It hurt my relationship with him. My two co-workers got along much better, so they got the less tedious tasks and enjoyed their work much more.

I’ve learned my lesson. It’s not about kissing up. It’s about appreciating the boss’s perspective. No one is perfect and we all tell bad jokes, but learning to appreciate the person for who they are makes a stronger bond and allows the relationship to become more of a friendship instead of a dictatorship.

5. Help Create the Rules

By now you can see where all this is going. The better your relationship is with your boss, the more you can manage his/her expectations. When you have a good relationship with your boss, it’s easier to explain your displeasure with certain work and it’s easier to ask for work that you enjoy.

Super star employees aren’t always the most valued employees. Running a successful company is a group effort. If you can’t get along with your boss, you are in for a rough ride.

If you want to be able to manage your boss’s expectations, you have to help create the rules of the game.

It’s never easy to say no to your boss, but there will be times when you just can’t do what is asked. You have to learn to say no in more subtle ways. When you can’t work late on a Thursday night, don’t just say “no.” Ask your boss if there are any other alternatives. Maybe you can work from home. Maybe you can offer a new timeframe. Maybe the work can possibly wait until early Monday.

You can do this when your boss knows you care about the work, but she also cares about you.

Putting It All Together

As any successful business person can tell you, your success comes down to relationships.

The better you are at forming bonds, the easier it is to leverage your superpowers.

When you are doing great work and your boss likes you, she will want you help set the rules of the relationship.

Written on 3/10/2013 by Karl Staib. Karl Staib is a career coach who helps people leverage their superpowers! If you enjoyed this article, you may want to check him out on Facebook or join his free 7 Part eCourse to a Happier and More Successful You. Photo Credit:

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