By Dr. George Watts and Laurie Blazek
Young professionals often underestimate the importance of developing a strong relationship with their manager. They believe that being a solid performer is enough; that simply doing a good job will magically open doors in the future. This is inaccurate thinking that can derail even the most promising careers.
We have a unique perspective on the concept of “managing up.” From our coaching practice, we know that managing your manager also means managing your ego. This is especially challenging when your manager is nothing like you. But you can turn your manager into an advocate once you learn to control your ego.
Your personality drives your behavior, how you think, act and feel. It’s who you are at your core. Especially in the early stages of their career, young people often unconsciously project their strongest personality trait on their manager. And it’s the ego that drives this projection. The ego is the part of the psyche that wants recognition, power and influence. We are all born with an ego. But it’s the mature person who makes adjustments and recognizes when the ego is motivating their actions.
Let’s look at an example. Let’s say I am very extroverted. I love to engage, be included in interpersonal dynamics and hold deep conversations. I derive energy from being around people. If I report to a quantitative introvert, I might have a hard time connecting psychologically. This person doesn’t enjoy going to lunch, rarely holds team meetings, doesn’t like to engage in small talk and never socializes after work.
A natural reaction would be for me to become frustrated because my extroversion isn’t being reciprocated. But if my ego didn’t project my extroversion, there would be no issue. My frustration would disappear if I recognized that the real problem was the expectation that my extroversion be reciprocated and reflected back to me via my manager’s behavior.
This type of problem plays out with any number of personality dynamics. You may be highly conscientious but report to an unorganized creative spirit. You may love to use your intuition and gut feelings when evaluating scenarios but your manager is stuck on gathering more and more facts to reduce uncertainty. Or, you may thrive on doing things by the numbers while your manager flies by the seat of their pants.
Not judging people according to your ego’s perspective will always be challenging. It’s up to you to demonstrate the maturity to adapt to your manager’s personality. When a young professional is able to move past unconscious projection, their maturity takes a tremendous leap forward. Developing the ability to see reality through a clearer lens is a huge professional differentiator.
In the first 10 to 15 years of your career, you’ll collapse time if you understand your own personality strengths and manage the unconscious projection of the ego when interacting with your manager. Accept when your personalities differ and know that you can still form an authentic and meaningful connection. Acknowledge that their personality gives them strengths in areas where you may be weak. Take the opportunity to grow and to learn something from them!
Managing your manager begins with managing your own ego. You’ll reap big rewards if you put your ego in your back pocket and focus your energy outside of yourself.