Many leaders and leaders in the making come to coaching looking for help in managing the relationships they have with their respective bosses and in particular to learn about ‘managing up‘. This is hardly surprising given that over 50% of us make significant changes to our working lives as a direct result of the demands they place on us. Their presence in our lives is heavily influential and wide-ranging, so it’s well worth spending time trying to ensure that our relationships with them are as good as can be. High time then to manage up.
What is managing up?
Managing up is the term used to describe the process of helping your boss to do his or her job better. The practice has become an almost intrinsic feature of modern working life as organisations become more competitive and complex; as specific roles within these organisations have become more dynamic and, as the leadership techniques, be they transformational leadership or other leadership styles, required to manage this new dynamism become more sophisticated.
In order to manage an organisation or team well, managers need others – the teams they manage, their peers or their own bosses – to help them to achieve their objectives and reach their targets more fluidly. When everyone puts his or her shoulder to the wheel to make their boss’s job a little easier, the result is a smooth-running operation that functions in the optimum way.
An Example of How To Manage Up
A good example, albeit a fictional one, of managing up would be the team supporting President Bartlet in the early noughties TV series, The West Wing. The more they use their own skills and individual talents and go the extra mile to help their boss to achieve his goals, the better he performs and the better their own reputations become.
An organisation will flourish if each member manages himself or herself, while also managing others either up, down or sideways. An omnidirectional understanding of one’s role in the organisation will thus ensure greater rewards are achieved for all concerned as the whole is always greater than the sum of the parts!
The Skill of Managing Up
Like every strategy, the real skill lies in the execution and managing up is no exception. For example, a lot of people believe that each employee should concentrate on their own job alone and not use up their time helping others to do theirs. Some organisations are structured along those lines so you need to use smart judgement to know when to manage up. If you misread the situation, others may resent your ‘opportunism’ in ‘helping’ the boss! It’s important too to be realistic and to know that not everything is rosy in every garden. Influencing others, for example, to get endorsed for a promotion or be selected in a high-profile project, sometimes provokes tension. Some see managing-up as a way to get personally recognised for these efforts, and if not done with subtlety and authenticity, the efforts can backfire. Tread carefully.
What is the Definition of Managing-Up
When a person successfully manages up, all parties are likely to benefit as the boss has a huge influence on pay and prospects, the intensity of work schedules, the difficulty of the targets set for us and the overall well-being of the team! So if you can manage up to the extent that your boss instinctively trusts you, you are more likely to do well. Successful executives too pay attention not just to managing-up but to managing down and across – to underlings, to peers, to clients and to stakeholders. The same principles apply in these cases too – if you want to ensure a successful organisation, you need everyone to get on well together.
Benefits of Managing Up
When managing up works well, it ensures a good relationship with the manager – the working day is more enjoyable and the positive relationships that result make the journey through your career all the more satisfying. A good relationship with the boss affects workplace happiness, making it exciting and fun, and this affects our overall well-being.
What are the Common Mistakes People Make?
Don’t overdo it. In internally competitive company cultures that have a strong feedback culture and a focus on promoting people, the tendency to manage up can be exaggerated and even spiral out of control with employees fighting to build a relationship with the Boss. To be effective it must be authentic and natural.
Then there is a fine line between managing up for the overall benefit of the team and trying to manipulate your boss for personal gain. So use your judgement, remembering that you have to work side by side with your peers too! Managing up should be an open partnership between you and the boss rather than something done surreptitiously to get personal glory – being helpful and anticipating your boss’ needs shows attentiveness and commitment.
- Think about the reporting line upwards in the same way as you do the reporting line downwards: if you can make your boss look good to his superiors, he or she will, in all likelihood, do the same for you.
- Do your research on your manager: learning what makes them tick might help you to see where they are coming from more clearly. It might also provide an opportunity for you to see yourself in their light and, if needs be, to adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Align yourself with your manager’s goals by setting your KPI’s to reflect his or hers. Then your success will become their success.
- Share your observations about the team with your boss. Become a trusted source of information and help – someone who they know they can turn to when an issue arises. Be open and honest when things don’t go right. Trust is really the key to it all.
- Ask for feedback and act on it. With constructive observations from your boss, it’s easier for you to understand his expectations of you.
- Help accommodate any of your manager’s shortcomings – if you know that your supervisor has a problem with, say, timekeeping, offer to open a meeting on his behalf and prepare an agenda for him.
- Don’t assume you can manage up without thinking it through. Each person you want to influence is different, has a different style, a different set of values. You need to create a plan for each time you want to manage up. But beware, it’s never as easy as it sounds.
- Don’t overdo things – your ‘plan’ needs to be natural, honest and authentic and designed to contribute to the common good. If it isn’t, it will backfire.
- Get recognised for adding value to the task, the common good, rather than overtly promoting your own endeavours. Put yourself in a situation where the boss recognises you by the quality and the character of the support you lend him.
- Believe in and work to your role – if you don’t do your core job well you can’t expect to get recognised for helping others. As the saying goes – ‘make the everyday your masterpiece’.
- Don’t only help the boss – this will be seen for what it is, as self-serving. Help him by all means but also help others, irrespective of their position, to do their own best.
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