She treated me like her personal assistant. I had to check in with her as soon as I got to work, I had to ask her permission to leave for lunch, and I couldn’t go home at night until she said so. Jennifer checked everything I did and corrected everything I said. I hated the way she smiled on Friday afternoons as she informed me we had to come to the office over the weekend, something we did for months while we planned this product launch.
Jennifer knew I didn’t like her, and we fought often and openly. One morning, our group director, Ed, walked by my cube and said sternly, “Come to my office.”
I grabbed a yellow pad of paper so that my walk down to his office looked to others as if I were being given a special assignment that required diligent note-taking. I walked into Ed’s office and he asked me to close the door. He then ripped me a new one. The net-net of this one-way conversation was that Jennifer was my boss — and if I didn’t find a way to make her happy, she would no longer be my boss, because I would no longer be working at Y&R.
That Sunday morning, I showed up to the office and surprised Jennifer, our supervisor Sue, and Ed with a dozen bagels, some vegetable cream cheese — and a brand-new attitude.
Over the next few months, I went from an immature, self-entitled employee to a celebrated member of a team. It was a personal transformation I will always remember, and I want to share this lesson with the Millennial work force out there in the online publishing and advertising world.
For starters, your boss doesn’t suck. A bad relationship with your boss, however, can suck the life out of you and your career. Secondly, you can’t fake liking your boss – that’s an act that won’t last. But the good news is that you don’t have to fake it in order to make this relationship great.
To have a great relationship with your boss, you have to fall in love with the feeling you get from pleasing them. You have to embrace the little things your boss wants from you, and commit to doing these things exactly as they have asked you.
For example, back to Jennifer, she set up a spreadsheet a certain way — but I wanted to improve the structure of the Excel sheet, often adjusting her columns and rows. That was an error because I was forcing her to adapt to my vision instead of respecting hers. When I learned to embrace working within her cells, her rows and her columns, she became easier to work for. Same went for the structure of our decks, down to the font (she loved Helvetica). Most importantly, I committed to being in the office before she arrived every day, and never leaving before she did. This led to the biggest difference in how she treated me, because I earned her trust.
Having a great relationship with your boss isn’t about getting them to like you over drinks. Real respect is earned when you commit to respecting your boss’s specific and daily expectations, owning these tasks versus fighting them, and then meeting these expectations every day you work together.
In the end, by falling in love with the feeling I got by pleasing Jennifer instead of fighting her, I really did fall in love with her professionally — and in turn, she fell for me. When you don’t have to fake that feeling for your boss, coming to work feels like less of a burden and more like a game you have a chance at winning.