- Complement your manager's skillset
- Ask for what you want
- Prove your work is important
- Get others to prove your case
#1 Complement your manager's skills
Learn your manager's strengths and weaknesses (they exist, he's not perfect).
Then you can send him opportunities to do more of what he's good at, while shoring up his weaknesses with your own strengths.
And shoring up his weaknesses will teach you how to be a manager yourself!
- “What has he done really well?”
- “What does he need to know about this project to use his strength?”
- “What does he need to get from me to perform?”
#2 Ask for what you want
"People absolutely MUST ask for what they want. Even if it sounds crazy and you don’t think your manager can do anything about it, it’s important to ask because it will stick in their head."
#3 Prove your work is important
Gather evidence showing why your work is important.
Even if your manager tells you what to do, this is still a useful exercise because:
- You can demonstrate to others that you're delivering useful results (which helps during performance reviews)
- Knowing why your work matters is motivating!
- If you can't find evidence, maybe this work isn't actually important and shouldn't be done
Collecting proof can be tricky sometimes, and you might need to get creative. Here's how Richard Hamming demonstrated computing was important, back when people weren't quite sure how useful they were:
When I loaned what little programming power we had to help in the early days of computing, I said, "We are not getting the recognition for our programmers that they deserve. When you publish a paper you will thank that programmer or you aren't getting any more help from me. That programmer is going to be thanked by name; she's worked hard."
I waited a couple of years. I then went through a year of BSTJ articles and counted what fraction thanked some programmer. I took it into the boss and said, "That's the central role computing is playing in Bell Labs; if the BSTJ is important, that's how important computing is." He had to give in. You can educate your bosses. It's a hard job.
...You can get what you want in spite of top management. You have to sell your ideas there also.
#4 Get others to prove your case
Another story from Hamming:
In the early days, I was limited in computing capacity and it was clear, in my area, that a "mathematician had no use for machines." But I needed more machine capacity.
Every time I had to tell some scientist in some other area, "No I can't; I haven't the machine capacity," he complained. I said "Go tell your Vice President that Hamming needs more computing capacity."
After a while I could see what was happening up there at the top; many people said to my Vice President, "Your man needs more computing capacity."
I got it!