While this post is about managing your manager, a better title might have been how to get your manager to invest in you without them knowing.

I am leaving my current role in a couple of months, and the unfortunate part of that means leaving lot of wonderful people.  With my departure I have been working on a transition and as I have been meeting with team members, I noticed that I seem to be giving the same advice over and over: “you have to make sure you manage your manager”.

What does this mean?

Well, a lot of good managers (and I like to lump myself into this group) spend a lot of time thinking, coaching and growing their employees.  They take the time to really get to know them – their hopes, their goals, and their dreams – and then help them build the skills and experience necessary to get them there.  However, not all managers do this (which isn’t a bad thing per se, as they may not have time, or they have a different set of strengths) and in that case if you want to grow and succeed in your role, you have to learn to ask the right questions and get your manager to coach you.

In my opinion the best way to do this, is to come prepared to your one on one meeting with a list of topics or questions you would to cover (and this applies to any meeting with a person in leadership in your organization – your manager, or even their manager).   Just taking this action has two big benefits:

  1. It shows you take the time to prepare and appreciate the other person’s time.
  2. By asking them for questions and feedback, they become invested in your success.  This is a great way to build a bunch of successful, senior advocates in your organization.

Below are some of my favorite advice/questions/topics that you can use to solicit valuable feedback and gain insights into your job performance – providing an understanding about what is important to them, and how you can improve.

Understanding expectations
When it comes to performance and evaluation, some of the biggest miscommunication occurs when an employee misunderstands their role, or the expectations of that job.  Fault can lie on the manager, the employee, or even bad documentation and job descriptions – but regardless of cause, everyone wants to be doing the right job well.  Asking some questions around your work, the success of others in the same role, and expectations, can help you calibrate and make sure that your energy is spent in the best way for the organization (and consequently your success).

  • What are the most important aspects of this position?
  • If I only completed one thing this week/month/quarter what should it be?
  • What has made other [insert role here] successful in this organization?  Ask for examples.
  • What are the most important deliverables for the team?  Company?  How can I play a bigger role?
  • Upon completion of a project – what went well?  What could have been improved?


Solicit feedback on your performance.
Make sure you are always asking for how you could be better.  Whenever a project completes, do a mini-post mortem with your manager on your contributions on the project.  Ask them for feedback and listen to the answer.  If they have critical things to say, it may take them a minute to gather their thoughts, so ask the question and wait for their answer.  And remember, regardless of what they say, it is valuable, so don’t defend yourself, listen and reflect it on it later – you can always talk more in a later meeting.

  • What could I do differently to better at my job?
  • What traits or experience do I need to develop to move up to the next level?
  • This week/month/year what have I done that was really great?  From your viewpoint how could I apply that to future projects?
  • What is something I could have done better on project [fill in the blank]?
  • Is there any part of my job where I am falling short?  How do you think I could improve?


Getting involved in leadership.
Even if you are an individual you can still be a leader in an organization and add tremendous value outside of your tasks.  Understanding ways to do this that work well with your strengths is important and can help you bring your involvement and contributions to a much higher level.  For example, if you are an engineer and your job is writing code, learning how to mentor and help others from a technical perspective can be really valuable on any team (just make sure this never comes at the cost of your normal work!).

  • How can I support you (my manager) better?  How about the team?
  • What are the biggest challenges we face on the team?  What about as a company?
  • What do you think are my strengths? How could I leverage them better to help the organization?


Come to the table with solutions, not just problems.
It is so easy to complain about what is wrong.  In fact, I tend to always have at least one person on the team that uses our one on one meeting to just complain about everything that isn’t perfect. I dread those meetings more than any other.  They are so negative and I always feel like I spend the entire time trying to get the person to come up with their own solutions.  Don’t be the person your manager doesn’t like to meet; instead be the person that comes to the meeting with ideas and solutions on how to address your own complaints.  If a process is inefficient or some meeting is a waste of time, don’t just complain, but bring ideas on how to address them.  Also, ask for their ideas too, working collaboratively together will build your working relationship and hopefully solve your complaint.


Share your aspirations and goals.
Sometimes people don’t like being honest about what they really want – after all, how awkward is it to say “well one day I would like your role”.  However, learning how to talk about eventual goals and the skills/experience you want to develop to get there will help your manager recognize potential opportunities that may exist.  For example, I send articles, classes and even introductions to people on my team that have synergy with their goals.  However, I can’t do that if I don’t’ know what they really want J


Come to the table prepared.
I know I mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating – if you come prepared to your one on one it will be so much more valuable than just showing up. You should try to:

  • Have an agenda.  What are the most important things to discuss?
  • Listen.  It’s a conversation, be sure to ask questions, listen to responses, and if you have trouble with this, try taking notes (it really helps keep you engaged).
  • Be punctual.  Everyone else is busy too; show respect for their time.
  • Accept feedback graciously.  Remember all feedback is valid – it is someone else’s point of view.  Don’t be defensive, and try to be considerate.   This way they won’t be afraid to tell you in the future.
  • Say thank you.  Your manager is your advocate; let them know they are appreciated for their time.


Hopefully this helps you!  I know that asking many of these questions have helped me understand what really matters and how I can be great at my job.

Feel free to leave any other tips and ideas in the comments.



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