How to Manage Your Boss


I remember being on an ICI training course many moons ago.

The guy taking the course was talking about relationships, self-image and that kind of stuff. He said we shouldn’t moan and groan. He’s right. He used the analogy of James Bond:

James Bond doesn’t walk into M’s office at the end of a busy day fighting baddies and say “I’ve had a terrible day. There’s this bad guy with a humongous laser death ray beam thing in a hollowed out mountain and I have to climb up there and there are hundreds of guys shooting at me and there are sharks biting my bum and the Aston just drinks petrol you wouldn’t believe it and my MI6 pay is rubbish and the barman at lunch stirred my Martini when I said shaken…”

That’s not what James Bond does.

In the intervening years (probably 25 of them) whenever I have felt like burdening my fellow human beings with the occasional little psycho drama that somehow comes into my mind in a moment of weakness, I think of a moaning and whining James Bond and I usually check myself. Usually.

When I had a boss I went to see him one day and I said (I paraphrase) “Boss, my job’s crap. I hate it. Why don’t we manage it like this (insert cunning plan to get someone else to do job willingly) and I can do this (insert great new job with huge potential benefit to me and organisation).”

He agreed.

Not only that, at my next appraisal he thanked me for coming to him with a problem AND its solution.

Here’s how to manage your boss so that they will see you as part of the solution and not part of the problem… (This works in all sorts of relationships.)

  • Don’t drop the pieces of a problem on your boss’ desk after working at it for seven whole minutes before giving up. Bring solutions and preferably a lot of them.
  • It is better to seek forgiveness than permission. So just do it. Now. If your immediate reaction to this is “but, but, but” or some variant of that you probably don’t have confidence in your own judgement. If you’re really not sure about whether or not you should buy that LearJet on the corporate Amex I suggest you pause and get some advice. Almost everything else – just do it.
  • Don’t be a pain in the arse – no whining, no moaning, no “he said/she said” soap operatic small mindedness. 
  • Make your boss’ life easy – anticipate incipient shambles and stop them happening whether it’s your job or not. 
  • Never say “that’s not my job”.
  • Unless you at the end of your tether, never, ever, ever ask your boss to do anything for you. They are surrounded by needy people saying “can you just…” and they don’t need you to add to the problem. You will be quickly recognised as someone who is low maintenance. But when you’re at the end of your tether and you do ask for something, you tend to get it. (This is reciprocity kicking in.)
  • Don’t confuse your boss with your Mum or your Dad.
  • Never say “no.” Find a way to make it happen.
  • Smile. And if you can’t, don’t scowl. (I had someone work for me who used to “tut” when I said something she didn’t like. That’s a high risk strategy as she found out.)
  • Always act like an adult (as opposed to a child or a parent). This adult-parent-child thing labours under the name transactional analysis and you should Google it because getting it wrong stores up oceans of pain.
  • Allow your boss to be wrong without pointing it out.

Management is not just about “managing down”. It’s also about “managing up” and “managing sideways”. And not just at work.   

10 Responses to How to Manage Your Boss

  1. Robert Sloss October 1, 2013 at 9:21 am #

    The advice is excellent, the James Bond example not so good as he is a 2 dimensional fictional character and fits nicely with the Bonzo Dog Doodah Bands hit single “I’m the Urban Spaceman”! (If you can’t remember read the lyrics a good example is “I don’t need pleasure, I don’t feel pain, If you were to knock me down I’d just get up again”)

    A better example would be from Mrs Thatcher (someone I rarely quote and not usually considered a management Guru) who said the reason she preferred David (now Lord) Young to her other ministers was that they brought her problems and he brought solutions!

    • Mark Nugent October 3, 2013 at 9:26 am #

      That is a better example, but sadly lacking in Aston Martins. And guns.

  2. Lily Newman October 1, 2013 at 11:49 am #

    Hi Mark

    Another strong blog – I really liked your James Bond grabber – it made me click on the link (knowing that it wasn’t necessarily hugely relevant to your key lessons!) I love your bullet points (very much aligned with mine). James Dyson is another great (real life) example of a solution focused, uncomplaining, ‘let’s make this thing work’ attitude. He made over 3000 prototypes of his bagless vacuum cleaner before he had a working, saleable proposition. Now that is commitment for you (some probably said ‘stupidity for you’ as he worked on prototype number 2999!) Thanks for sharing your nuggets. Have a great week.

    • Mark Nugent October 3, 2013 at 9:25 am #

      Thanks Lily. There’s a lot to learn from Dyson and the fact that innovators disrupt industries and have to go it alone before being copied. I work with some “technology push” companies who need the industry incumbents as their route to market. “Please will you market my great idea that you didn’t think of.” Doomed.

  3. Keith Plumb October 1, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    Hi Mark, great blog. I have always believed in manager management.

  4. Amanda Fairclough October 2, 2013 at 1:02 pm #

    Mark, this is absolutely brilliant, and every word is wise and true. It’s the way I’ve tried to teach my colleagues to work with me over the years. My struggle is to always follow the approach myself, but I do keep trying (don’t quote the Yoda thing on me about “try” – I know, but sometimes it is what it is!)

    My big question is, how do I employ James Bond?

    • Mark Nugent October 3, 2013 at 9:18 am #

      Thanks Amanda. I’ve had a picture in my head for 25 years of James Bond smiling as a shark bites him on the backside. Works for me.

  5. Paul Tanner (Empower Consultancy) October 3, 2013 at 4:41 pm #

    Brought a smile to my face! Good piece Mark. I think Mrs Tut came to work for me too. Similar outcome. Think she is found her vocation as an ornithologist.

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