how to be your own boss — even when you have a manager

If you’re like most people, you’ve thought at times that it might be awfully nice not to have a boss. Unless you’re planning to start your own business, that probably isn’t an option – but you can minimize the amount of managing your boss has to do (and thereby get some additional autonomy and independence) by taking care of some big pieces of it yourself. Here are four key ways to benefit by acting as your own boss – even when you have a manager.

1. Pay attention to how to get things done in your organization. If you’ve ever had a manager who knew exactly how to make things happen in your company – who to go to in order to get something done, how to circumvent a cumbersome process, or how to get a project or decision out of limbo – you know how valuable that skill can be. You can cultivate this ability yourself, by paying attention to how things work outside of your team (how they really work, not what the process manual says), who has influence, what gets things expedited, and what approaches are most valued in your company. You can also learn by paying attention to the people who don’t have this ability – what are they doing wrong that you can learn from? Pay enough attention, and you’ll start to put together a roadmap that you can use yourself.

2. Make sure your time reflects your priorities. If you have a good manager, one things she’ll do is check in with you to make sure that your biggest priorities are continuing to move forward and that you’re not getting sucked into spend significant amounts of time on things that simply don’t matter that much. But you can do this for yourself, by taking a few minutes at the start of every day/week/month and asking yourself, “What are the most important things for me to accomplish today (or this week or this month?” … and then making sure that you allocate your time accordingly. That also means …

3. Figure out what to say no to. A good manager will occasionally step in and point out that a particular project isn’t the best use of your time or the team’s resources. But you can also serve this function for yourself. One way to do is it to set up a “do not do” list, composed of things that you’ve deliberately decided not to spend your time on. Of course, make sure that you’re aligned with your manager about what items end up on that list – but thinking strategically about what belongs there (not to mention just having such a list in the first place) is a great thing to do so that your manager doesn’t have to.

4. Reflect on what you do well and where you could do better. A good manager will help you regularly assess what’s going well and where you should on improving, but the reality is that many managers don’t give as much feedback as they should. But that doesn’t mean that you need to go without! Try setting aside time periodically to reflect on your own about where you’re excelling and where you’d like to do a better job, develop more skills, or simply operate at a higher level. You don’t need a manager to help you identify these things, and one advantage to reflecting on this on your own is that you’ll often be well on the road to improving by the time it even occurs to your manager to critique you.

I originally published this at Intuit QuickBase. 

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. B*

    I get very little feedback or information from my manager. I think he thinks i know everything as i’ve been there much longer than him! But this will be really helpful in lieu of actually being managed! And as i’m hoping to get a much better job in the next year hopefully it’ll stand me in good stead.

  2. ArtsNerd*

    As someone who DID just quit my job to start a business, it’s encouraging to see that my partner and I are openly communicating about all of these.

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