Managing up, or intentionally working with your boss to get the best results, is one of the most important skills for every professional, and it is one of the most misunderstood.
Some believe it has to do with giving your boss false flattery to get what you want. Others think it is tricking your boss into thinking or doing something that benefits you. These are cringe-worthy behaviors that most of us avoid.
Managing up is about maximizing the most important relationship you have at work, the one with your manager. This means to intentionally leverage, develop, and nurture your interactions with the person who determines your workload, autonomy, exposure to the organization and most importantly, your overall job satisfaction.
That said, bad boss behavior (not an employee’s lack of managing up) is the grounding force behind work dissatisfaction. But employees have a lot of power in making choices and taking actions that positively influence the relationship with their boss and thus, improve their satisfaction.
There are specific actions to take that can build up or tear down this important relationship. Here are some Dos and Don’ts.
Do – Know their preferences and adapt
It’s natural to want your boss to think and act like you but that often isn’t the case. Seek to understand them, their 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 them well and adapt your work deliverables to these preferences.
Do – Ask questions and confirm expectations
This is important if you work for a boss who appears less organized, has a heavy workload, or tends to not ask your opinion which you believe leads you or the team down the wrong path.
Strive to meet regularly with your manager to understand what’s being asked of them and what’s coming up next. 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 idea into a question engages a busy boss in your thinking while drawing on their ideas too.
Do – Thank and appreciate your boss
Leadership is lonely and the higher up in an organization, the lonelier it gets. People leaders, regardless of level, often feel isolated and many will describe the experience as sometimes thankless.
Appreciating your boss’s contributions is an important aspect of managing up. Find moments to genuinely thank them for their efforts. Even if you work for a boss you don’t like, they are still likely trying their best, whatever the circumstances. Showing gratitude for what they contribute can go a long way in building and nurturing the relationship.
Don’t – Expect to change them
Your boss has their own unique values, behaviors, and motivations as well as skills and experience. This combination is likely what brought them to their leadership role. Moreover, they may have been routinely promoted based on their leadership style. Whether they are a good, bad, or terrible manager, don’t expect to change them.
Managing up is to accept them for who they are and focus on their strengths. Center your attention on their positive qualities (and not on their faults). This will help you maintain a productive mindset.
Don’t – Take it personally
This is important if you work for a micromanager or someone who wants to be informed of all the details. The best way to manage up to a micromanager is to not take their involvement personally (such as a reflection of the quality of your work or your competency). Those who do take it personally sometimes react unproductively by withholding information or by speaking poorly about their boss to others. This degrades the relationship.
Micromanaging is often not about the team but about the manager’s need for information and the expectations they have for themselves. By not taking their behavior personally, you’ll be able to better support them and deliver what they need.
Don’t – Neglect Yourself
Managing up takes time, energy, and dedication, especially if you work for an uninspiring or ineffective boss. What you don’t want to do is direct all your productive energy to them and thus neglect your own needs. Or worse, avoid managing up entirely and remain stuck in an unfulfilling place.
Keep a list nearby of what inspires and motivates you. Find time daily to do that work to fuel your energy. Take breaks, get outside and away from screens, and engage in the activities that keep you healthy and well.
Depending on the boss, managing up might seem frustrating, labor intensive, or like serving a boss’s ego. But look at it a different way by putting yourself in their shoes.
What would it be like to work with someone who adapted their style to yours? Pretty good, right? You likely will feel a greater sense of trust because they “get you”. This is the heart of teamwork and collaboration which is exactly what managing up seeks to achieve.
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Until next time!
Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience in HR and operations. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leading people and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm that provides customized training and coaching.
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