How to Make Your Boss Look Good by Closing the Loop

by | Apr 27, 2020

When I began working in investment banking, my father gave me a pearl of wisdom that helped guide me through the ups and down of nearly a decade on Wall Street. No, he didn’t tell me to get in early, stay late, or complete extra work. He instructed me to do something that has been one of the guiding principles in my corporate career. And without further ado, here’s what he said:

Make your manager look good.

That was it. Simple and yet powerful guidance. You see, almost everyone thinks about themselves. There’s an entire cottage industry of self-help content that caters to those wanting to improve (such as this fine newsletter). But when you work in any organization, you’re not the master of your own fate. Your manager, your boss, will ultimately decide (or play an important role) in your assignments, advancement, and remuneration. When was the last time you thought deeply about your manager’s career advancement? Have you asked your boss how you can help them achieve their next career milestone? (Better yet, can you help them get there?)

Yep, we all want our manager to like us, but what’s the best way to make this happen?

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My father Raghbir Sehgal has an American Dream life. Last week, I explained how he left India, worked factory jobs in the UK, and began working at an engineering company in the US. He worked there for thirty years, eventually becoming the CEO. He was able to excel because he kept making his manager look good and serving the needs of those above him. He explains how he did this in detail in our book Close the Loop: The Life of an American Dream CEO and His Five Lessons for Success by Raghbir Sehgal and Kabir Sehgal. Sure enough, one of these lessons is making your manager look good.

3 Tips to Make Your Manager Like You

  1. Close the Loop – “When you hear from your manager, treat it like the word from above. Get whatever they want done as quickly as possible,” said Raghbir. Or at least acknowledge that you understand and will start working on it. When Raghbir was in the Middle East, he would call his manager in Atlanta almost every day (this was in the pre-Internet era). My dad was communicating more quickly with the CEO of his firm than his peers (that were at the same Atlanta headquarters building as the CEO). My dad didn’t let distance prevent him from closing the loop. You always want to close the loop with your manager. Don’t leave them guessing. Tell them you got the assignment. Keep them updated. And let them know when it’s done.
  2. Ask your manager what are their career goals (and help them achieve their objectives). Talk about flipping the script. If you have a 1×1 with your manager, take a few moment to ask about them and their goals. My father routinely asked his bosses what they wanted to achieve. He became their sounding board. The CEO of his firm asked Raghbir to start the international division of Law Engineering, but my dad initially resisted as he didn’t want to move. But then Raghbir started to understand why the CEO wanted such a division. My dad started to see things through the eyes of his boss. The firm needed to diversify its revenue. Raghbir obliged and helped launch the international division, thereby helping the CEO achieve his goal. When it came time to name a successor, Raghbir was selected.
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Raghbir with his manager in Saudi Arabia, setting up the international division of Law Engineering.

Would you visit your boss in a retirement home and feed them Popsicles when they lose their ability to eat?

  1. Friends for life. How many ex bosses are you friends with? My dad routinely visited his managers years after they worked together. When my dad’s boss was in the retirement home (and close to the end of his life), my father still visited him once a week. That is unreal commitment. Would you visit your boss in a retirement home and feed them Popsicles when they lose their ability to eat? (This is the ultimate closing of the loop, being them at the end of their life) I grew up hearing these stories, so every manager that I have – I make it a point to let them know that we’re going to be connected for life. I will be there for them when they need help. No, they don’t think I’m weird (ok, maybe a little). But I mean it. I’m there for my manager and their families, always and forever.

By putting the spotlight on your manager, the glow will come back on you. You may be able to earn more trust and freedom from your manager, giving you the time to pursue your outside interests. This is how I’ve been able to juggle many careers. Honor my manager, earn the freedom, invest the free time in other careers. My path began with the pearl of wisdom that my dad taught me.

Kabir Sehgal is a Multi Grammy & Latin Grammy Award winner. He is the New York Times bestselling author of fifteen books including Close the Loop: The Life of an American Dream CEO and His Five Lessons for Success with his father Raghbir Sehgal. Kabir is also a US Navy Veteran. He hosts the nightly Quarantine Concert Series which features musicians on LinkedIn and other platforms. You can follow him on Twitter.