Managing Yourself – Step 9: Managing Up

This GovLoop series called “Managing Yourself” provides readers with the right skills, tools and mindset to be proactive about their development to thrive and succeed, both professionally and personally. Thus far, we’ve covered “Knowing Thyself,” “Goal Setting,” “Time Management,” “Executive Presence,” “Effective Networking,” “Developing Charm,” “Diversifying Your Skillset” and “Becoming a Real Leader.” Our post this week is the next step in your roadmap for success: managing up.

What’s Managing Up?

Management guru, Peter Drucker, taught us that we have a responsibility for the relationships in our lives. Understanding this is important because “very few people work by themselves or achieve results by themselves,” especially in the knowledge economy. We are usually part of a larger system. The duty of the manager is to ensure everybody plays well together.

The key is understanding that good management isn’t simply issuing directives. It is relationship building. As a manager, your boss is responsible for developing a successful and productive relationship with you, which is what we typically think of as management. Managing up means that you, the employee, are also responsible for ensuring a successful and productive relationship with your boss. It’s a two-way street. When this is done effectively, it can yield some fruitful results.

How Does It Work?

The “Managing Yourself” series focuses on the core concepts necessary for personal development and productivity. It’s built on the premise that all of us are individuals and that we each work in different ways. The key to managing up is to take these concepts and project them upward.

According to Drucker, our responsibility for relationships has two primary components:

  1. Understanding that everyone is an individual, and the boss is no different. We all have different and preferred methods of working, communicating and doing business. If we’re attempting to manage up, it’s important for us to observe the boss, discover how they work and adapt to what makes them most effective.
  2. Accepting that everyone is responsible for good communication. No one works in a vacuum and we all rely on each other for something. Each of us should know what we’re supposed to do and when, and what everyone else is doing and when. Simply relying on assumptions will get you nowhere!

Tips and Tricks

A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) Article, “What Everyone Should Know About Managing Up,” offers some insights on how each of us can manage up. The key thing to remember is that our approach all depends on the kind of boss you have. Different bosses require different approaches. We’ll reiterate a few tips here:

1. Know Your Boss

This can be learned by observation, experience or conversations with executive assistants.

  • Anticipate their needs. Learn what it is that they need to get done, understand how you play into that as their employee, and then deliver results!
  • Know what makes them tick (or ticks them off). Dale Carnegie taught us that we should endeavor to “talk in terms of other people’s interests,” to speak to what matters to them. In turn, you’ll be rewarded with increased attention and, hopefully, action!
  • Understand how to bring problems to them. Let’s be clear, your boss does not want your problems to become their problems. Nevertheless, if the problem is big enough, they should probably know about it. Some bosses will prefer to micromanage and take control. Others will expect to be informed but want you to handle it.
  • TIP: If you must bring a problem to your boss, outline it briefly and add one or two recommended courses of action. Keep them simple, concise and actionable.

2. Take Responsibility for Communication

For Drucker, most of the conflict in workplaces is a “result of personality conflicts, brought on by not knowing what other people are doing.”

  • Confer with your boss about their preferred method of communication. Because you took the time to get to know them (above), you’ll know whether they like to receive briefings from you in a written form or orally.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Before you begin sending emails nonstop, know that poor communication can go two ways: too little and too much. It’s up to you to know the correct balance. But if your boss had to choose either 1) not knowing something and needing to know it or 2) knowing something and not needing to know it, they’d choose the latter hands down.
  • Make no assumptions. Most breakdowns in plans or processes are the result of miscommunication and making assumptions, which could have been avoided if everyone was on the same page.

A Final Point

Managing up isn’t sucking up. There is a huge difference! Sucking up is a superficial method of currying favor from those above you. Managing up, on the other hand, is about “being the most effective employee you can be while creating value for your company” (HBR article). What’s wrong with that?

For further reading:

Leave a Comment

One Comment

Leave a Reply