Managing up can mean different things to different people. One may view it as a set of techniques and strategies to allow a subordinate to survive when working for a difficult supervisor. Another may see it as a means to harmonize actions with the person you are reporting to in order to pave a smooth road to more money and a promotion. Still others may see it as manipulation or performance acting in order to achieve a personal objective. Whatever your point of view the general consensus is there is a need to work with your manager in order to improve the climate in your work place and achieve personal and organizational goals.
I will draw largely from many years of reporting to a variety of managers. The techniques mentioned will be some that I’ve used personally or observed used masterfully by others. I will also refer to the literature around management and leading, ultimately providing the perspective of a person reporting to a manager and the viewpoint of a manager receiving the strategies.
Articles written on the topic of managing up, advise employees to first understand their personal motives and objectives. A high level of emotional intelligence through greater self-awareness, let’s you know what you wish to gain from a relationship with a supervisor. These may be a variation on rewards and recognitions to include, increased compensation, promotional opportunities or simply survival goals. It is also helpful in designing strategies to work with your boss. This analysis also exposes the non-negotiable, things you will not give up to succeed in a manager / employee relationship. You need to know what is in it for you or what you need to acquire to make it worth the time spent. The personal drivers of your behavior will become clear to you during this time of reflection. It is important to be genuine, transparent and honest with yourself.
Secondly, you must determine the goals and objectives of your manager. If the boss is a perfectionist, give her what she wants. She needs to deal with different styles, but you may not have the rank or credibility to change her. Managers have different management and personality styles. You need to know if they are autocratic, where they believe all objectives should come from the top of the organization or participatory where teams are emphasized. They may also be consultative, persuasive, decorative or laissez-fare. The management style will give you insight into how they will run their slice of the organization. A review or management style literature contains definitions of the styles and how to work effectively within them.
Managers leave a corporate footprint within their organizations. There will be evidence everywhere on their trials and tribulations, conquests, contributions and celebrations of achievement. The information is present within the company history and you will find it by indulging in research or investigative reporting. This research will involve interviews and asking the right questions.
These interviews may start as early as your pre-employment interview or the job interview prior to the promotion. You want to determine what drives the manager, what makes them tick and what ticks them off. You want to know their philosophies, values, ambitions and thoughts around teamwork and individual achievement, so you can see if their goals mesh with your work ethic. What are the manager’s views about performance and how it is rewarded or punished? You want to know what excellence looks like to them, their work habits and decision-making strategies. Do they involve their team in decision-making? Do they value those who come to them with solutions rather than problems to be solved? The manager has a track record as clear as footsteps in the snow; you want to know as much as possible, so you don’t make mistakes when managing your career while managing up.
The interviews should involve direct conversations with the manager, but also input should be solicited from others who have worked for her. A talk with their peers and others within the company will be helpful. You ultimately want to build a bridge with your performance to get you from where you are to where you want to be. If you are currently working for the manager you should have much of this information, but are you using it to your advantage? Here are a few do’s and don’ts that may be helpful for you.
- Perform your job with excellence
- Make the manager look good
- Determine values, philosophies and pet peeves
- Avoid conflict unless the manager thrives on it to test your mettle
- Keep them informed about matters involving their area
- Have their back, protect them and cover their blind side
- Maintain confidentiality of key events that occur in your area
- Become an invaluable asset – indispensable
The first step in managing up is to do your own job with excellence, within the parameters of corporate policy and professionalism. Know your job and do your job. Know your boss and do your best to make them look good. The manager’s job can be one of the loneliest jobs in the company. The higher they rise in an organization, the more this statement applies. If you become a valued asset to the manager, this will enable you to manage up more effectively. Rosanne Badowski, co-author of Managing Up: How to forge an effective relationship with those above you says that your boss wants you to “go above and beyond your tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work.” Penelope Trunk in the November 2006 issue of Managing Up said, “Helping your manager makes you a greater asset and will make you more competitive for a promotion – managing up is a “help me help you” type of role, and it can certainly work in your favor.”
If you are focused on continuous improvement, the manager will be impressed by your dedication. They may welcome you taking on additional responsibility by showing yourself worthy to handle the increased workload. This distribution of responsibilities will give you insight into their job, which could be helpful as you move up the company ladder. The manager may be open to mentoring and offering career advice to help you navigate the competitive waters of your industry or organization.
- Compete with your manager – a victory is a defeat
- Make your manager look bad, incompetent, foolish or ridiculous
- Hang your manager out to dry by failing to keep them in the loop
- Embarrass the company and subsequently the manager
- Gossip, complain or speak ill of the manager to peers or others in management
There may be times when you may feel your boss is threatened by your presence and performance. You may catch the eye of senior leaders and your boss may feel you are the heir apparent to their job. This is a very delicate situation and you must do everything in your power to ensure that she can trust you and have your loyalty. Even if you are better than your boss in a certain area, do not rub their nose in it. Become a resource for your supervisor and use humility, offering your skill set for the benefit of the entire team. You must resist the temptation to go over their head, even when the senior leader gives you permission. Discuss this matter with your boss and ask for advice on how to handle. If you do not feel comfortable with this approach, consult your mentor or trusted advisor or alternative strategies.
Guard against setting up an adversarial relationship with your boss. A manager gained a reputation of being well-connected due to his many company relocations. This caused a problem with him and his director. The Director was the type who wanted to have access to all information. One day the manager mentioned in a meeting that he had copies of information the Director desired. The Director was furious and challenged him to disclose the person who sent him the files. When the manager surrendered the name, the Director replied, “So that’s your source of information in the Home Office.” The manager filled with ego, naively replied, “One of my sources of information.” When the words left his mouth, he said, he knew he had made a mistake. He worked from that instance to correct this error in judgment.
Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser
Managing Up – Part 2
The Manager’s Perspective
Due to be posted March 12, 2013