Managing normal bosses is hard enough. Dealing with difficult bosses could take a whole book to discuss. So, let’s assume for now that you have a normal boss, not a bully or someone overly aggressive or hard to work for. One of the reasons we don’t do a very good job of managing our bosses is that we tend to think of them as the police or the tax collector – people to avoid as much as possible unless they want something from us.

We go to them if we have a question that only they can answer. Otherwise, we think we have had a good day if we have hardly seen our boss all day. The problem with this attitude is that we limit the ways we can sell ourselves. Make no mistake about it, until you retire, you can never stop selling yourself. Even just to keep your job, never mind getting promoted. Job requirements change rapidly these days and if you are not showing your boss how you are keeping up with the times, you may suddenly find yourself dispensable.

But now the problem is: How do you sell yourself? Most employees think of only two ways: do a good job or talk about what a good job you do. Because most of us hate bragging, that leaves us with one option. The way around this limited perspective is to start seeing yourself as a business and your boss as one of your most important customers. This means that you need to take every opportunity you can to ask your boss questions about his or her needs. You need to think like a management consultant, probing to find out what your boss is trying to do and how you can help make him successful and yourself indispensable.

So, the key to managing your boss is to focus on his or her needs, not your own. This does not mean being flattering or deferential. It is just simple customer service, recognizing that you can’t leave it up to your customer to determine what services you have to offer. This would be like opening a store and not advertising. It is your job, as part of selling yourself, to proactively figure out how you can help your boss by adding new services to your offerings. By focusing on your boss’s needs you kill two birds with one stone: you keep your boss happy by showing interest in his needs and you sell yourself by continually tweaking what you have to offer so that you are always aligned to where he is trying to get to. The key is to show interest in the boss’s needs. Just ask lots of questions. People warm to those who show interest in them.