In Employee Engagement

Your relationship with your boss is arguably the most important work relationship you have. Unfortunately for many people it is also one that is fraught with frustration, awkwardness, or simply lack of sufficient trust. In my executive coaching work, I find that 80% of the time the relationship with the boss can be improved significantly and is strengthened as part of the coaching process.

We often assume that the boss has significantly more power, and often this is the case. But, as a savvy leader, you can use the tool below to create a powerful partnership with your boss. This is not about who has more power in the relationship, but about how powerful the relationship is, and together what it can help you both accomplish. Here’s a great tool-kit to help you.

As an executive coach, I often work with the leader being coached and their boss to help them design a partnership that works for them. This partnership is critical for the success of the coaching engagement as executive coaching requires the person who is being coached to stretch and try new behaviors. A trusting partnership with a boss can create great safety for the leader to take risks and get honest feedback. This process significantly improves the engagement of both the leader and their manager, creating the conditions for greater courage, honest conversations, transparency, trust, and ultimately stronger business performance.

I know personally in my 20-year corporate career, as a boss it was of utmost importance for me to know what engaged and motivated each of my team members, and I didn’t have the tools to have these trust-building conversations. Likewise, I often didn’t feel comfortable initiating these conversations with my boss.

The below are a series of questions that you can each answer and discuss together that clarify needs and expectations in the partnership you have with your boss. If trust is not optimal or has been eroded, it is extremely powerful for each of you to acknowledge that and state your sincere intent to rebuild it. The below tool is also excellent when you have a new partnership that you are creating.

  • What’s already working well?
  • What do we each appreciate or value about the other?
  • What is at stake for each of us to make this a powerful relationship?
  • Share a story of a great boss-employee relationship you had. What made that great?
  • What does a great partnership between us look like? How would we know that we had that?
  • What is the culture we want to create in the partnership? How would we know we had that?
  • How would we want it to feel? (Empowering, supportive, spacious, open)
  • What values are important to each of us?
  • What ways of communicating are important to each of us?
  • How do we want to be and act when things get difficult, or when there is conflict?
  • What routines or agreements would help the partnership flourish?
  • What can your partnership count on from you?
  • What will each of us commit to one another?
  • How do we hold ourselves and each other accountable to our partnership agreement?

It is very helpful to take notes and then summarize them to create a partnership agreement and periodically review and add to this agreement as all relationships are dynamic. It may seem awkward at first to put this down on paper, but it will be definitely helpful to creating robust and trusting relationships.

And if you happen to be a boss, this is a great tool to use for establishing strong partnerships with those you lead. This tool can work great for peer relationships as well.

What other questions will be useful in this exercise for you? Will you take this tool and act on it?

This article first appeared on my Forbes leadership blog.


Showing 2 comments
  • Asadullah Khan

    All of us have a boss and in some cases bosses. As a leader in sub-ordination theory, one has to manage his/her boss(es). This checklist of advice in managing that relationship is a must read and refer to as one progresses into her/his career.

    Thank you very much.

  • Ilhaam Groenewald

    Both a great way and to an extend, moving one into an uncomfortable space, to strengthen trust in the workplace.

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