Find the Right Boss

Job seekers are too easily dazzled.

Some jump at the prospect of working for a well-known brand. Others are delighted by open floor plans and whiteboard walls. Still others are thrilled by onsite gyms, free lunches, employee discounts, and so on.

All of these hold value, but their novelty soon fades. The top determinant of your job satisfaction—more than company name, work environment, a fancy title, compensation or perks—is your manager.

Your relationship with your supervisor will make or break the opportunity. If you cannot get along, nothing will compensate for it. In fact, most people who quit their jobs do so because of their boss.

What can you do to ensure a strong working relationship?

Evaluate the Hiring Manager
If you’re job hunting, do your homework on the hiring manager. Don’t waste the interview just trying to impress them. Get to know their values and management style. Consider whether you can see yourself working with them long-term. Knowing your preferences allows you to quickly assess each opportunity.

If you’re ambitious like me, you will want to find a boss who:

  1. Demonstrates integrity. You become the leaders you follow, so follow one you can trust and respect. Plus, few things sap joy and meaning out of work faster than questionable morals.
  2. Believes in you and values your career development. These managers challenge you and create opportunities for you to grow. They put you in front of their bosses and give you due credit.
  3. Offers the right amount of involvement. What’s “right” varies by position. But in general, neither micromanagement nor abdication is optimal. You need a balance of autonomy and support.
  4. Cares about employees as people, not just workers. This often reflects corporate values. Great companies recognize that life happens. When it does, you’d want your manager to understand.

Your experience of the job and the company will be colored by your boss. So find one with whom you can work well.

Value what Your Boss Values
If you aren’t job hunting, strengthen your relationship with your manager. The best advice I’ve heard is to value what your boss values. This doesn’t mean imitating unethical practices or being a sycophant.

It does mean showing empathy. Your boss is human—if not, forget everything I said—and experiences have shaped his or her priorities. Some are deeply held values; others may seem like trivial preferences. Either way, you’d do well to be mindful of what matters to your boss.

Valuing what your boss values also means practicing humility. At times you will disagree with them. To be sure, voice your concerns where appropriate. But keep in mind that they may know information you don’t.

Lastly, it means making best efforts toward missional alignment. In strategic planning, we say the goal is to get everyone rowing in the same direction. So find a captain you’re proud to follow and row.

This is the fourth post in our series: Advice for New Graduates.