Learning to understand your boss's priorities and managing style can go a long way towards improving your working life, writes Blair McPherson

In one of his regular HSJ columns, Ali Mohammed referred to research that says 60 per cent of people leave their manager rather than their organisation. Research published in the Guardian claimed that in a staff survey 22 per cent of employees said they believe they could do a better job than their manager. Another employment trend is that management bullying is reported to be on the increase, particularly in the public sector as the pressure to meet demanding performance targets and stay within tight budgets increases.

Better people management skills would certainly go a long way towards changing how staff view their managers. But is it all down to incompetent management, or could it be that some staff are better than others at managing their manager?

If you know your manager, then you know how to influence them, you know the best way to get additional resources and you know how to get their support for something you want to do. In this way, you manage them. Most managers recognise that their staff try to manage them, just as most managers try to manage their boss.


There are two basic types of manager: those who are influenced by values and those who are influenced by facts. A winning argument for the former is 'it's the right thing to do' - emphasising fairness. In the latter case, a winning argument is 'it is the rational and logical thing to do' - emphasising the evidence.

Managers who are value orientated tend to focus on the big picture at the expense of the detail, whereas those who want the facts and figures tend to focus on the detail. Of course, in presenting your case, you need to cover both aspects, but in managing your manager you need to know where to put the emphases.

In addition, you need to know whether your manager wants to be seen as an innovator or as measured and wise. The first type will want to be associated with high-profile initiatives, whereas the latter is more likely to favour a low profile 'let's wait and see if it works first' approach.

The Myers-Briggs psychometric indicator takes a more sophisticated and scientific approach to this and identifies 16 personality or management types. It is used to help managers identify their preferred style and give them an insight into how they can become more effective. It is also used in the recruitment process when the aim is to have a diverse team, the aim being for people to have complementary strengths. Of course, this also means that if you can spot what type of manager your colleague is, or what type of manager your manager is, then you can use this knowledge to manage them.

Likewise, managers who know themselves know which arguments they are susceptible to and therefore listen and act accordingly.