Updated: Aug 21
Assumptions can ruin every relationship. Your relationship with your boss is no different.
My first job out of college, I experienced something rare: I loved my boss. I had recently graduated from college and taken an internship at an advertising technology company while studying for the LSAT. I quickly discovered that I was in way over my head.
Less than a year into my job, my company reorganized my department. My manager, who handled Salesforce for the company, was moved to another part of the organization, leaving me with a new department and a new boss, one that lacked all of the qualities I loved about the one leaving.
My former supervisor was an inclusive leader who gave great professional feedback and advice and always made sure to acknowledge the efforts of her staff. My new boss micro-managed, was bad at communication, and almost never seemed to notice when I was going above and beyond on my tasks.
My world was turned upside down. I was new to working, so this was a new experience that I would have to learn how to navigate. I decided to speak up when I felt uncomfortable and overwhelmed. I booked some time on my new boss' calendar and expressed that her management style was negatively affecting my confidence and performance.
She thanked me for the feedback, expressed this was a new experience for her as well, and committed to being better at communicating. After leaving the meeting, I realized that several of my issues with my boss were due to assumptions that I had about boss-employee relationships. Assumptions can ruin any relationship. In my experience, your relationship with your boss is no different.
Read on for five assumptions that may be killing your relationship with your boss.
1. Your boss is supposed to motivate you
The best bosses will motivate you and help you grow personally and professionally. However, at the end of the day, it is not your boss's responsibility to motivate you, develop you, or direct your career. Those are areas that a mentor can help with, but not every boss will end up being your mentor.
If your supervisor lacks in this area, look for alternative support through a mentor, collaborative teams and colleagues, or other leaders in your organization.
2. Your boss received managerial training or has managed before
Getting to manage other people is often a reward for doing well at work. So, it is not surprising that being awesome at your job and being awesome at managing people do not necessarily go hand-in-hand.
Some managers have an innate ability to lead and motivate others. Others will struggle. However, becoming an effective leader can be through learned behavior. If you find your manager lacks some of the qualities of a great boss, this would be a great time to practice managing up by understanding your boss’s faults and compensating for them. For example, my new boss would forget to update the team about when she was planning to be out of office. I proactively added “upcoming vacations/time-off” to our weekly meetings to help her remember to share this information.
3. Your boss knows more than you
When my company reorganized, my boss did not understand my role or responsibilities. Our Sales Operations Team was just two people, and management needed to assign this very small team to someone new. My new boss took on the responsibilities without really understanding my platforms or processes, and it took her almost a year to learn and understand what I did for my teams and company. This is not unique in advertising technology jobs, especially when the company reorganizes.
4. Your boss has more or exclusive control of your future
It is not uncommon for company-wide policies or other factors to impact your career growth. My awesome boss was as surprised and frustrated with her moving to a different team as me. It is best to understand that some things are out of your manager's control and to be flexible during periods of change.
Of course, if you would like your boss’ help to grow your career, let them know. Determine what additional support—whether it’s training or taking on extra projects—you need to get to the next level.
This is why relationships outside of your boss are worth developing. In cases where your boss has limited power (because they’re new) or doesn’t have a mentoring relationship with you, those other people can speak up on your behalf and ultimately help advance your career.
5. Your boss knows you're unhappy
Your boss is human. While it would be great for your boss to pick up on when you’re unhappy or feeling down, they might not notice or think to ask about it. This could be due to a personality flaw or personal preference.
You can share your concerns with your boss, but in some cases, you should look inward to fix why you’re unhappy. If you are unsure if you should tell your boss you’re unhappy, here’s a guide to help you decide.
Recognizing these assumptions allowed me to be more proactive in my relationships with my superiors, my career, and personal development.