How to be led? On cooperation with your manager

How to be led? On cooperation with your manager

Very recently the book by C. Fournier, The Manager's Path happened to join my collection. By itself, it's an amazing position that I'd recommend to anyone working in a tech company aiming to develop their leadership traits and practices. But what stole the show for me was how the author kicked off with the book - highlighting the importance of how much influence one has as an employee over his relationship with managers. This prompted me to delve deeper into this and explore how to actively work on being a good person to be led while remaining a great professional.


All of us keep some kind of record of managers we came across in our careers. Some better and some worse. In the tech world, we often come across people who went on to be managers without much leadership skills, empathy or knowledge on that ground. This is often a fruitful ground for issues like micromanagement, neglecting business goals or communication misinterpretations.

I've been hopping between being a team member and team leader a few times in my career and experienced those feelings multiple times. Both positive, feelings of being encouraged, motivated and aiming to push forward, as well as situations where the only thing my manager was inspiring me to was to file a resignation. So what could we do if we happen to come across the latter?

Fournier points out that at least to some degree your workplace happiness is your responsibility. Just like your manager, you also set the tone for your relationship. Fournier advises on quite a few actions which I have augmented with some of my personal thoughts, takeaways and learnings joining the POV of a manager & one being managed, so let's go!

Be active on 1:1's

1:1's by minimum have to serve two purposes. First of all, they allow you to create your own, personal and human (!) connection with your manager. Use this to your own advantage, as later on you can use more personal communication to sell your ideas and needs. A common way to excuse yourself here is to call yourself an introvert or assume the manager is uninterested in it. Is not an excuse to avoid treating people like human beings. Your manager should treat you like a human that has a life outside work, you should expect to talk a few minutes about that life when you meet. It's also a good hint to return the favour of interest.

Second, it's an opportunity to lead a regular discussion on work-related topics. But don't confuse that with a status meeting - for that purpose email would do fine. If you want to behave like a senior-level professional - come with an agenda of things you want to discuss. You’re responsible for yourself. Ask questions if you don’t know something. Ask for a raise or a promotion. If you’re unhappy, say it. This meeting is for you to bring up things that you want to change for your in the work setting - make the most out of it.

My real-life example of notes I had for random quick check 1:1 in the past:

Get feedback by giving feedback

Often, in internal questionnaires, culture assessments, or happiness evaluations, companies inquire about the frequency, depth, and directness of the feedback employees receive. Depending on the company's culture and dynamism, this could vary, but the absence of feedback from one's manager emerges as a common concern in such surveys.

Something that is not obvious here though it's one of the most basic principles that allow you to inspire others to comment on your actions. The most effective way to get feedback is often to give it yourself first. Whether it's with a colleague, your manager, or even your manager's manager, giving feedback opens the door to discussions. It allows for agreement or disagreement while portraying you as an employee invested in others' work and willing to challenge the status quo.

Managers love team members who have good feedback skills. It demonstrates teamwork and signifies professional maturity. Furthermore, managers appreciate receiving feedback on their actions, even if it's negative. Human beings are intricate creatures, and managing even a few of them is a culmination of this complexity. Any support offered in this regard is immensely valuable to a leader.

Think through career expectations

Contrary to popular belief, promotion to a managerial position does not mean the development of the third hemisphere of the brain and the ability to read minds. You have to spend some time thinking about what you want. You're by a mile the best person to do this research. You know your own preferences, feelings, confidence, persistence and time allowance.

Managers can help you see the opportunities available at your current workplace or different projects you can embark on. They can share the stories of other people with comparable skills and their journeys. But at the end of the day, you will have to decide for yourself if that’s what you want.

Try to remain reasonably ambitious here. Setting goals like learning ten frameworks annually, attending numerous conferences, or completing various courses while remaining an active employee might be impractical. At the same time if you chose yourself too little of a goal may not bring you the satisfaction from personal growth. In such cases, it's unfair to blame the manager for work feeling stimulating.

If you struggle to find the next step to take check out projects like to get some inspiration:

Remember to give context

Of course, it depends on the organisation you are in but in most of the IT cases, your line manager should have a technical background. However, even if that's the case, it doesn't mean they have an encyclopedic knowledge of every detail within the product you're working on. He also doesn't know every single person in the company, every project running and initiative that's currently active. At the end of the day, we managers are still human and can keep in our heads just so much.

For that reason, when reaching out to your leader or manager for help or advice it's a great practice to ensure that they're familiar with the context of the case you are trying to present. This won't happen as often as one might assume. If we are talking tech, don't assume the leader will decipher all the jargon you are using on the spot. Provide some background to the issue at hand—its history, whether it's a recent development or an ongoing challenge spanning multiple quarters. When escalating an issue, ensure your manager understands the problem or blocker you've encountered.

I've observed many managers struggling to admit when they don't fully grasp team members' cases. However, an essential leadership trait is the ability to make swift and effective decisions if given enough information. Help yourself and your leader by making sure, that's the case.

Give your manager a break

Yeah, really. Managers are just people. Sometimes they’re stressed out and not ready to listen to you. It's important not to take this personally. Similarly, your manager might not always have all the answers. Don't perceive a lack of an immediate solution as a lack of commitment from their side. Of course, it's not the reason to hide what you are struggling with, just keep your expectations realistic.

To minimise such friction you can start by limiting ad hoc initiatives. We're talking Hey, Y got a minute? messages on Slack/Teams. Try to plan ahead as much as you can. Leverage asynchronous communication through the communicator of choice. Use already existing meetings like 1:1's, dailies or retros.

Be direct and concise. Cut to the chase without unnecessary preamble -

Pitch solutions not problems

Yeah, that can be tricky. Your manager shouldn't be the person you constantly pull aside just to vent about ongoing issues. That the code is bad, the project goes slow or the guy from the internal tools team is quite a jerk. You can share insights like that during dedicated surveys or 1:1's. Continuously offloading these daily work issues onto your manager can quickly overwhelm them, possibly desensitizing them for a moment when you genuinely need to discuss something important.

Instead, try to state clearly what is your expectation from the leader. TAsk for assistance in evaluating solutions or suggest a resource or individual who could help. Perhaps you struggle with self-organisation and would use some helpful tips here. Note that in 90% of cases, you are better at your daily work than your manager, even if that doesn't seem like that.

Choose your managers

The book's final point emphasizes the power of choice in career decisions. When assessing job opportunities, it's crucial to not only consider the role, company, and compensation but also the manager. Make every effort to meet the prospective leader during the recruitment process; after all, you'll likely spend a significant amount of time working together. Strong managers often possess robust networks, capable of assisting you even after you've moved on. Leveraging their experience, they've witnessed various career paths of those they've led, offering you valuable insights for evaluating your own situation.