How Can You Double Your Effectiveness at Work by Managing Up?
8 practical steps to start managing up today
Do you feel that, as an employee, you could be offering more to your organization if only your boss provided you with the right training?
….that you could be more productive and effective if you only had the right guidance to sharpen your skills?
Unfortunately, we don’t all get the professional development training and opportunities that those in the biggest and richest corporations get.
So, we have to find other ways to improve performance, be more productive and be more effective at work.
The good news is that there’s plenty you can be doing yourself to address this issue — starting with a process known as managing up.
We’ve all heard about top-down management, but what is managing up?
Read on to find out more about what this means and the practical steps you can start taking today to double your effectiveness at work.
What is “managing up” and how can it help you become a more effective employee?
The term "managing up" is often misunderstood. It’s not about being insincere, flattering an incompetent boss or tricking him/her to get what you want.
We all know that’s unlikely to be very successful.
So, managing up is not about manipulation. The Harvard Business Review defines managing up as:
“Being the most effective employee you can be, creating value for your boss and your company.”
We like to think of it as getting the best results possible out of the most important relationship at work: the one with your boss.
This relationship is likely to impact how content you are coming to work every day, your overall stress levels, your confidence and effectiveness at work, how long you stay with the company and even your future career choices.
So, let’s think of managing up as intentionally working with your boss to get the best results possible at work or to put it another way:
“Leveraging, developing, and nurturing your interactions with the person who determines your workload, autonomy, exposure to the organization and most importantly, your overall job satisfaction.”
It’s one of the most important skills for every professional because it only requires you and a slightly altered paradigm.
Managing up requires no whiteboards, training sessions, or handouts. This is self-directed performance improvement that any employee can engage in, learn from, and achieve positive results with.
Can you manage up a bad boss?
The bottom line is this: poor management and unsupportive bosses are two of the leading reasons for employee dissatisfaction in almost any HR survey you read.
If you feel micromanaged, untrusted, and unproductive through lack of guidance, it’s not helping your morale or confidence. Ultimately, though, you can sit there and blame the world for your lot — or try to do something about the situation.
Even if your boss is a terrible manager, there are steps you can take to improve the work experience and your effectiveness within it, which will help increase your job satisfaction.
You have considerable power to make the choices and take the actions that positively influence the relationship with your boss and improve your job satisfaction levels.
Let’s take a look at eight specific managing up actions you can start implementing at work today…
8 tips to start managing up effectively today
Don’t expect your boss to change or for you to change them
If you start on the wrong footing, you will stumble at every step. So, this first tip is an important starting place.
It’s important to go into the managing up process with clear expectations. Your boss has unique values, behaviors, and motivations that are likely to be well ingrained, as well as unique skills and experience.
These qualities likely stood your boss in good stead as they entered a leadership role and if they have been routinely promoted based on their leadership style, they will be even more deeply embedded.
So, whether you consider that your boss is a good, bad, or terrible manager, don’t expect to change them.
Managing up is about accepting your boss for who he/she is and focusing on their strengths. Center your attention on positive qualities and not on faults. This will help you maintain a productive mindset.
Try to understand your boss’s preferences and adapt
Again, trying to get your boss to think and act like you is a losing game. The onus is on you to seek to understand your boss’s motivations and stressors.
Consider the following:
How does your boss like to receive information: in bullet points or paragraphs?
When does your boss make the best decisions: in the morning or afternoon?
What motivates and stresses your boss?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, ask them. Get to know your boss well and adapt your work deliverables to these preferences, and you may be pleasantly surprised by the results.
Communicating on their terms is likely to improve what you get out of the interactions – and it will show that you care.
If a boss sees that you are sensitive to their needs and adapt your style to theirs, the trust level goes up— and this leads to better teamwork and collaboration (two main goals of managing up).
Ask questions, confirm expectations, and propose solutions
Do you work for a boss who appears quite unorganized, overworked, or regularly makes decisions that, in your opinion, take the team down the wrong path?
Then, it’s important to ask questions to clarify what needs to be done, confirm expectations of results and maybe propose a solution or two to any problems.
Strive to meet regularly with your manager to understand the pressures they are experiencing from those above, what’s coming up next, and how you and your colleagues can assist.
When tasked with assignments, always ask for a due date. And, if your boss seems to either disregard your ideas or not ask for them at all, don’t stay silent. Instead, present your ideas in the form of a question.
Rather than saying, “I think we should conduct focus groups” say: “What if we conducted focus groups?”
Framing your ideas into questions is more likely to engage a busy boss in your thinking while drawing on their ideas and allowing them to remain in control of the decision.
Look for opportunities to “take things off their plate”
An overworked boss is unlikely to be very effective at leading.
Look for opportunities to step in and take work off their plate so that their time can be freed up a little — and do work that nobody else wants to do.
Perhaps volunteer to do some of the time-intensive tasks like booking meeting rooms, developing presentations or conducting research, etc. Saving time for your boss won’t go unnoticed, and you can expect increased trust and respect because of it.
Look to help your boss’s career path
Do you know what your manager’s plans are for their own career development?
Maybe they want to become the head of a department or do something entirely different within the next five years.
Seek to understand whether you can help your boss achieve what they want or support them in their goals. Assisting on a professional level like this can also improve the personal connection between you, increase the trust and respect that your boss has for you and improve your overall workplace experience.
Thank and appreciate your boss
Despite what you may think, your boss may be having a bad day, Leadership is lonely and the higher up in an organization, the lonelier it gets.
People-leaders, regardless of level, often feel isolated and many describe the experience as “thankless” at times.
You can help change that by appreciating your boss’s contributions. Finding moments to genuinely thank your boss for his/her efforts can go a long way in building and nurturing the relationship and is an important part of managing up.
This is more difficult if you work for a boss who you don’t like. However, they are likely still trying their best and, whatever the circumstances, are probably not trying to upset you personally.
Remain calm and remove the emotions
If you work for a micromanager or someone who wants to be informed of all the details, it might seem that you are being unfairly targeted.
The truth is that the boss likely treats all employees similarly and, while it may be tempting to consider it a personal issue, it’s probably not a reflection of your work or competency.
Try to remove emotions that may lead to inappropriate responses to your boss or when you discuss the situation with fellow employees. That could easily degrade the relationship with your boss.
Managing up is about focusing on better supporting your manager’s needs — not getting upset about their leadership style.
Look after your own wellbeing
It’s important when focusing on meeting your boss’s needs that you don’t forget your own — as that will lead to burnout rather than better productivity.
Managing up takes time, energy, and dedication, especially if you work for an uninspiring or ineffective boss.
Write down what inspires and motivates you at work, and find time daily to do it to fuel your energy. Take breaks, get outside and away from screens, and engage in activities that keep you healthy and well.
Try to maintain a healthy work-life balance, as spending time with your family and friends will also provide you with the mental and emotional energy you need at work.
Ready to start managing up?
Neither employees nor bosses have anything to fear from managing up if it’s done according to the guidelines outlined above.
It’s about “walking a mile in your boss’s shoes” and empathizing a little more with what they may be going through — not massaging their ego. It’s especially important with a newly hired manager, when you change teams or if you’re trying to patch up a rocky relationship with your boss.
Managing up is a highly practical strategy to increase productivity, confidence, and performance and, ultimately, double your effectiveness at work.
Ultimately, by making your manager’s job easier, your day-to-day job becomes more satisfying.
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