There are a multitude of reasons why people work to make their bosses look good. Perhaps they hope it will get them noticed, leading to a promotion of their own. In an unsteady economy, it might be the best route to keeping their job. Maybe they’re just looking to boost their department as a whole, and the most effective way to do that is to help the person leading the way. Whatever the reason, nothing bad can come of it, but what are the most effective ways to make your boss shine?
Michelle Foster Earle, president of OmniSure Consulting Group, a highly specialized firm offering consultation and support in risk management and loss control, says that learning new technology gets her attention. After 25 years as a senior leader on Wall Street, Doris Braun left to form Leadership Solutions for Women, an organization dedicated to advancing women in financial services. Braun says that when she was on Wall Street, getting her attention meant focusing on client relationships. Amanda Augustine, a career coach and job search expert for TheLadders, where she authors a career advice column shared with more than 5 million job seekers each week, also thinks that learning a new skills is not just helpful, but the best way to get noticed.
With the input of these experienced women, let’s look at three specific ways you can help your boss and boost your career:
Sharpen Your Skills
Keeping up on industry trends or building your skill set should always be top priority, but it’s rare that employees take the initiative when it comes to educational opportunities. Augustine says that taking the initiative for new learning opportunities will not only get you noticed, but the new information you apply to your job will be incredibly beneficial to your boss. The career coach suggests seeking out opportunities to build your skill set and deepen your industry and functional knowledge outside of the office by attending webinars, workshops, and conferences and by subscribing to industry publications and participating in online discussions.
“Bring your knowledge back to the workplace,” Augustine says. “This works in your favor in more than one way. You’re providing valuable information and ideas for your current organization, while sharpening your skills and making yourself a more attractive candidate for promotion or external opportunities.”
Foster-Earle has been most impressed by members of her team who learned a new technology or the capabilities of new software and then applied it to a project, especially when it helped promote her company’s services, allowing it to become more efficient or save money.
“One member of our team was promoted after he learned Dream Weaver and then showed me a mock website; I put him in charge of our website design,” Foster-Earle said. “Another team member made a sample quick tip video on patient safety using her brother as her videographer. We’d never done videos before, but now we do them often and we hired her brother as our partner. Another of my employees just learned to use Adobe InDesign so that we don’t have to pay a subcontractor to publish our newsletters. One of my subcontracted employees introduced me to GoToMeeting when we were in different cities and she demonstrated a process on her computer for me to see. I was very impressed and as a company, we now use GoToMeeting almost daily.”
If you want to impress your boss, you have to think two steps ahead. What needs to be done? What’s being overlooked? “If you’re handling all your regular duties and performing at 110 percent, don’t be afraid to volunteer to pick up the slack,” Augustine said.
Taking initiative can take shape in several ways. Braun was always impressed by direct reports who worked to strengthen client relationships without being asked to. “When the client is so wowed by an experience they had with one of your employees that they either write an e-mail or call you or someone more senior than you, it looks great,” Braun said. When working on Wall Street, direct reports who showed initiative by bringing in new business – new business with a new client or new business with an existing client – or attacking a problem no one else has been able to solve, never failed to grab Braun’s attention. The initial intention may not have been to make the CEO look good, but it definitely did, and that’s not something a boss is quick to forget.
Pushing back against norms and challenging established ideas or systems isn’t a bad thing, if the approach is right. It’s not about being difficult for the sake of it; it’s about identifying issues that could benefit from a new way of doing things. Is the current system in place losing the company money? Is there a way to streamline processes? Are the women in your male-dominated industry or the non-dominant groups in your less than multicultural workplace suffering in silence because your company doesn’t have any affinity groups? Embrace the unknown and push back against what’s established. If you can affect change under the leadership of your boss, it makes them look good and from a big picture perspective, it makes your company look good.
“Not every executive wants a ‘yes man’ or woman as their second-in-command,” Augustine says. “A great team will consist of members that come with different perspectives and will bring new ideas to the table. If you’re not 100 percent sold on a strategy, ask more questions. If you have other solutions in mind, don’t be afraid to present them. Just make sure you wait for the right time and place. You don’t want to embarrass your boss in front of your colleagues or her superiors.”