Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

The Single Most Important Work Relationship

A productive relationship with your boss increases your likelihood of success.

One of the main reasons I like Twitter is the opportunity it provides to gain insights into fields that interest me. Twitter is where I happened across Dr. John Ballard and his book, published by Praeger in 2015,  Decoding the Workplace: 50 Keys to Understanding People in Organizations.

I took a liking to Ballard's writing, as I noticed we seemed to have a similar approach to management issues, often viewing them from a psychological perspective.

Wikimedia Commons
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Ballard is an emeritus professor of management at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati. In Decoding the Workplace, he dissects the day-to-day work environment, with a mixture of academic research and solid career counsel, in a way that can be helpful - especially for people entering the workforce or relatively new to it.

Gregg Popovich, the highly successful NBA coach of the San Antonio Spurs (and one of the individuals I most admire in sports for his no-nonsense thoughtful style) writes on the book's dust jacket that Ballard "breaks down the workplace into its parts and then shows how the parts work. His fundamental approach is insightful and should help anyone improve his or her 'people IQ.'" I agree with this assessment.

The chapter titles give a good flavor for the author's approach and content. Some examples:

"Perception: Don't Assume That Others See the Workplace as You Do"

"Norms: Beware the Unwritten Rules of The Workplace"

"Organizational Socialization: New Employees Act Differently Than Current Employees"

"Organizational Culture: As Fish Are to Water, People Are to Culture - Unaware"

To give a more detailed feeling for the book's style, let's look at a section in Chapter 10 where Ballard discusses the importance of upward management. As usual, he balances academic research with career advice. The section's key point:

A productive relationship with your boss substantively increases your likelihood of success.

Common sense but true. Yes indeed it does.

"So what does having an effective relationship with your boss mean?" writes Ballard. "Addressing the Department of Business Administration at the London School of Economics in 1933, Mary Follett talked about something of 'the utmost importance, but which has been far too little considered, and that is the part of the followers in the leadership situation.' Followers have an active role to play, to help their boss, and to offer suggestions. It is not sufficient just to do what one is told. John Gabarro and John Kotter are more direct. They say that you should manage your boss. Manage or not, your success in the workplace will depend to a large degree on your ability to have a good working relationship with your immediate supervisor."

In the business world, unfortunately but realistically, good work alone isn't always enough for advancement. But good work combined with a strong direct-manager relationship creates a much more powerful package. Notes Ballard:

"So how is your relationship with your boss? Great? Good? Poor? You and your boss are mutually dependent on each other.  Your boss occupies a position higher in the hierarchy of your organization. Your boss can argue on your behalf with superiors, try to secure for you needed resources, and share information that might assist in your work. Conversely, the boss needs you to perform your job well, to provide ideas for improvement, to be honest in your statements and actions. If you do well, your boss has a better chance of doing well.  Part of the boss's success depends on you."

This close, sometimes symbiotic relationship is a theme I've explored in my own management writing. A concept I emphasize involves the old business adage, "People Leave Managers, Not Companies."

As I often like to say, a good boss can make a bad job good, but a bad boss can make a good job a misery.

Which is why, regardless of one's level in an organization, your day-to-day relationship with your direct manager is invariably crucial to your well being.

It's a reality that, along with many other practical aspects of the working world, Dr. Ballard understands well.

This article first appeared at

*  *  *

Victor Lipman is an executive coach and author of The Type B Manager.