Managing Up To Help You Move Up
Most careers are inherently tied to other people. For many, the boss plays a significant role in the successes and failures of one’s career. After all, at some point, everyone has probably been hired, trained, mentored, developed and at times managed. The problem with the traditional supervisor-subordinate point of view is that it is almost always top-down. Like the manager is pulling some strings and the workers are responding like marionettes.
Truly effective and high-performing people understand there is more to life and work than waiting for someone with a title to come in and give them an assignment. Managing up is another way of performing at a high level and supporting one’s boss. This makes leaders stand out by supporting the organization and making both you and your supervisor more effective. Here are some ways managing up can help you move up.
Take the time to understand your boss’s communication preferences and how the two of you communicate best with one another. This may mean a weekly sit-down or quick chats more often during the week. You may be able to communicate well with one another via email or text. The point is, figure this out early. It is important enough to have a discussion to find out from your supervisor what communication methods work best for them. Beyond the HOW, it is helpful to understand WHAT your boss is interested in knowing and WHEN. Most managers want to avoid surprises, especially the bad ones. Be upfront with the negative, especially if she needs to get out in front of an issue with other affected stakeholders.
The next important area is making sure your interactions are effective and productive. Some bosses stay at 30,000 feet while others get down in the weeds. Based on how you work best, take the time to understand how you two can complement one another. If you work with someone who keeps a big-picture point of view, you may lean toward being more detail-oriented. On the other hand, if your boss has planned everything out, be sure to bring a different perspective so you can maintain a strategic point of view and offer alternatives to get the best ideas out on the table.
Understand Your Manager’s Perspective
Where a manager sits in an organization, there can be different sets of concerns than where line staff or supervisors sits. Note the words “can be.” Adopt a strategic mindset early and think like you have your boss’s job and concerns. If there is something about a project or initiative you do not understand, find out more about it rather than just going along to get along. Try to understand how things affect the organization. If you work on a specific service, product or line, go out of your way to comprehend that product’s value to the organization as a whole.
This is especially true for people issues. The higher one goes in an organization, the less the issues are technical and the more they are about people. If you have a purely technical background and have not given much thought to things like leadership, coaching and organizational behavior, understand that these are the types of problems with which your boss is grappling. Give more consideration to understanding the “soft skills,” topics like empathy, leadership, emotional intelligence, and how your organization prepares people for their next career step.
Something employees can pick up on is the types of questions managers regularly ask. It is impossible to anticipate every question, but after some time working together, you start seeing trends. Begin to pre-emptively answer those inquiries. Do questions about budgets and/or costs always come up? Are there always questions related to manpower? Is quality or risk a common theme? Knowing what to ask and why it is important is a good signal about what matters in the overall business.
Managing up is not about being a yes-man or yes-woman. It is about supporting your boss, which makes the organization more effective. Achieving this high level of shared performance will not happen without honesty. Blindly following a leader is a recipe for disaster. Be prepared to give honest feedback and opinions. Even if the two of you agree completely about something, sometimes playing the role of devil’s advocate is helpful to flesh out more information. Being willing to always be honest and go against the grain when necessary is where your value will truly lie and can set you apart.
Support the Team
Ultimately, managing up is a form of servant leadership and has to be about the team. If ambition makes someone blind to the needs of the team and their co-workers, a lot of time and energy can be wasted. Managing up means supporting others and being a leader no matter where your place is on the team. Sometimes you may have to be out in front, but at other times you will find yourself leading from the middle or back. Regardless of where you sit, you can make a positive impact. Contributing to a successful team is a hallmark of high performance and effectiveness through managing up.