I chuckled at the analogy my client had used. Yes, ‘managing up’ is a very common challenge among my clients. My clients are managers themselves, but it doesn’t matter what level you are, skillfully practicing the subtle art of managing up is imperative for career success and satisfaction.
What do people want when they say they want to know how to “manage up”?
There is often some uncomfortable situation they want to alleviate: a micromanaging boss, a hands-off boss, a tense relationship. Essentially, they want the positive regard, trust, and attention of their boss, their boss’s boss, and their boss’s colleagues. They want to know that their opinions and work are taken seriously, recognized and supported. They want to have some positive influence in the way the organization runs. They want to be given challenging responsibilities that energize them. They want to be mentored and coached. They want their boss to manage them the way they want to be managed.
Guess what? Your boss wants this too. And they are probably not getting it either. So it’s up to you to break the cycle. Managing upwards is at its essence breaking the cycle of poor management. It stops with you. It won’t be easy. It takes human relationship skills, observation skills, communications skills, intelligence, and business acumen. It takes a willingness to change your behavior and your perspective. It takes a dedication to making things better for yourself and others. And it takes the inspiration to continue with it.
Is it worth it? If you want to be known as a revolutionary manager, I would think so. In fact, it may be the most profound thing you do at work, along with managing and developing your own employees.
There are many ways to start “managing up”, and improve your relationship with your boss. Here’s a quick list to get started:
1. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Get to the point quickly, but keep your boss informed. Ask questions to clarify expectations.
2. Know how your boss likes to be communicated with. Verbally? With details? Impromptu meetings? Know their behavior style.
3. Understand your boss’s priorities, hot buttons, and values. Observe carefully, talk to others, and ask your boss.
4. Take ownership of your own success. Your success is a result of what you do, not what your manager or anyone else does. And if you and your team are successful, then your boss is successful too.
Oh - and if you don't support your boss, don't expect him to support you.