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Four Ways to Manage Up

Managing up is a vital career skill rarely taught in career development courses.

Managing your boss doesn’t mean not questioning their decisions or having disagreements. Instead, managing up is working constructively with your boss to achieve organizational goals effectively and efficiently. The objective is to work with your boss to build a high-performing team.

So, how do you successfully manage up?

Show empathy. Your supervisor is human, with all the distinct strengths and weaknesses humans bring to the workplace. Every supervisor has a supervisor above them who expects them to perform just as your supervisor expects you to perform. Understand what drives your boss and what are their major concerns. Then, think of how you can help your supervisor manage their concerns. What can you do to contribute your skills and expertise to aid your boss in meeting their obligations?

Communicate smart. I have a boss who will only read the first two sentences of an email. I have had another boss who preferred talking over the phone rather than meeting in person. Another boss liked face-to-face meetings with plenty of coffee. Everyone has preferred ways they like to give and receive information. When you learn how your supervisor likes to communicate, you can more effectively persuade them to make decisions in your favor. Take the time to learn your supervisor’s communication preferences to build rapport with them.

Give feedback. Being a leader can be an isolating experience. Sometimes your employees won’t tell you things because they fear upsetting you. Or some employees will only bring negative opinions. As a supervisor, I wanted honest information that gave me an accurate picture of reality. I encouraged my staff to speak freely when they thought I needed to know.

You may have heard the adage that you should only bring your boss solutions, not problems. I disagree. Employees are closer to the customer and the situation. They can spot emerging risks often before the supervisor does. I encouraged my staff to alert me to risks and problems so I wouldn’t be unaware. The staff would then brainstorm with me to find solutions.

See the bigger picture. Sometimes being highly productive and effective can blind you. When I was a Presidential Management Fellow, I felt I had to prove myself. I would drive myself to finish my tasks faster than anyone else and preferred to work solo. Even when assigned to a team, I ignored my teammates because I wanted to prove to my boss that I was their best employee. All I did was burn myself out while gaining the animosity of my teammates.

What bosses need is a highly functioning team that coordinates and communicates well. A team of well-performing workers beats a group of highly effective individuals any day because a team’s efforts are often greater than the sum of the individual team member’s skills and experience. Thus, effective managing up is looking beyond your part of the project and seeing what you can do to help the greater effort.

The key to managing up is to think about how you would like to be treated if you were in charge. Because one day, you may be in a leadership position and will appreciate having your team support you as you all work to achieve great success.

Dr. Bill Brantley works in the U.S. Navy Inspector General Office as a Senior Training Specialist where he is leading the project to build the Office’s first learning portal for nearly 1,000 employees in the enterprise. He has been a program manager for the Emerging Leader Program and Supervisor Certificate Program at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He also managed the Executive Coaching and the Career Coaching Programs. Dr. Brantley was awarded the 2019 Emerging Training Leader by Training Magazine and is an IPMA-HR SCP, a Certified Professional in Talent Development, an ROI certified professional, a certified data scientist, and a Certified Professional in Training Management. He is a certified Project Management Professional, a certified agile project manager, a certified professional in business analysis, and is certified in Disciplined Agile. He has completed over 200 hours of coaching training from the Neuroleadership Institute, the American Confidence Institute, emotional intelligence coaching, and the Global Team Coaching Institute. Dr. Brantley is an adjunct faculty member for the University of Louisville (20+ years) and the University of Maryland (8+ years). He is the author of the “Persuasive Project Manager” (2019) and “Four Scenarios for the Future of the Federal Government” (2019).

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