How Can I Lead When I’m Not in Charge?: Four Tips That Will Help You Lead Your Boss

Published: Apr 08, 2019
Modified: Mar 24, 2020

By Angie Morgan, Courtney Lynch

Let’s face it—everyone has a boss. Your relationship with your immediate supervisor impacts so many aspects of your life. A solid rapport with that one person allows you to balance work/life issues more effectively, thrive in a positive environment and feel more fulfilled in your career.

On the other hand, a poor relationship with your boss can have far-reaching negative effects. It can cause you to develop a bad attitude that can spill over into your personal life after you’re off the clock. When the bond between you and your boss is weak, you develop a helpless, victim mentality. These feelings can contribute to career uncertainty, job dissatisfaction and, ultimately, they can make you question your own professional competency and goals.

Rather than suffer in silence, there are things you can do to improve your relationship with your boss. First, and foremost, you can learn to be a better leader. You don’t have to be in charge, or have a management position, to be a leader. A leader can be anyone, despite rank, title or tenure. Leadership is not about power or prestige. A leader is someone who takes control of her life to influence outcomes, which include creating a more gratifying relationship with the boss.

To work towards that ideal relationship, you can incorporate the following leadership techniques into your professional life:

  • Don’t take things personally. Your supervisor’s mood swings or snide comments may get under your skin, but they shouldn’t affect your disposition. As a leader, you’re confident about who you are and so you’re able to shrug off negativity before it weighs you down. Your supervisor’s bad attitude has nothing to do with you—so why take it personally? The less emotion you give to someone else’s unpleasant nature, the more energy you have to spread some light on your day. You can also use your optimism to make your co-workers’ days a little brighter. If you have a tough boss, chances are, he or she could also benefit from some cheering up.
  • Set an example. Your words and actions set the tone for how you want to be treated. If you want to take on more responsibility, prove yourself dependable. If you want loyalty, don’t disparage your boss to your co-workers. If you want more pay, do work that justifies your salary increase. Always hold yourself to a high professional standard, one that may even be higher than the one your boss holds for himself. When you set a exemplary example, you contribute to the creation of a more positive, professional environment.
  • Earn respect, not praise. You may never be your boss’s best friend—and that’s okay. Stop looking for affirmation from your boss and start striving for respect, which can be earned through your hard work and integrity. Likewise, you may never achieve the perfect relationship with your boss—but if you have her respect, then you’re in a great position to influences outcomes.
  • Be an Effective Communicator. If you feel your boss’s attitude has become a roadblock, have the courage to voice your concerns. Confrontation can be difficult, but it’s easier than suffering through a bad situation. Approach your boss with tact; choose your words carefully to ensure your message is clear. Come to the meeting prepared with observations and suggestions. Always have proposed solutions ready when you plan to highlight a problem. Chances are that your boss is unaware that his actions contribute to a poor work environment. You may be surprised how quickly your situation can improve.

Your efforts towards personal leadership development will help you regain control of your professional life and will allow you to develop and maintain a positive relationship with your boss. While you cannot force another person to change, by being a leader you can influence professional behavior through your solid example. Each step you take towards becoming a stronger leader brings you closer to job satisfaction. You’ll become a person your supervisors will want to promote. And as you progress professionally, you'll gain even more influence over your own future.

About the Author(s)

Angie Morgan and Courtney Lynch are founders of Lead Star, a leadership consulting company that helps develop women leaders. They are co-authors of Leading from the Front: No Excuse Leadership Tactics for Women (McGraw-Hill.) The duo learned valuable leadership lessons while serving as Marine Corps officers. For more information, visit