Managing Up – is it Possible?

“How do you manage up?”

This is a very common question. Others may disagree, but I give this short answer:

You don’t. You manage yourself and your team so well that your manager rarely questions anything you do. If your manager is unreasonable, then there’s not much you can do anyway, unless there is a serious ethical or legal violation, in which case, you still don’t manage up. Instead, you take the drastic step of reporting them.

Now, if the question changes to “How can I best get along with my manger?” Then, here are some thoughts:

Consider this: No one ever asks “How can my direct reports manage up?” Before seeking more influence with your manager, make sure your relationships are open and right with your reports, so you can be a role model team leader that your manager wants to emulate.

What do you want that you’re not getting? Consider a less-crafty approach and simply Be Specific, and Ask for What You Want. Resist always feeling like you need to “make a case” for something; it’s likely that the case you make, and the outcomes you desire, are more about your own objectives than theirs. Which brings us to…

What does your manager want that they’re not getting? What if you spent time and energy helping your manager meet her goals? Then, when it’s time to ask for what you want, “make your case” according to their goals, not yours. The only way to discover those motivations is to offer to take things off the plate of your manager.

Be careful with your feedback for your manager. We all hear “my door is always open”, “I want to know what you think”, “let me know how I can do my job better”. Start by assuming that these are not genuine requests for feedback. This is a bit political, but it’s the real world. They may not mean it. Some do, but many don’t.

Here’s what to do: Wait for repeated assertions that they want your feedback. Then, at an opportune time, ask “Do you really want feedback from us? I’ve got some.” When they say “yes” (because they will), watch their body language. If you can tell they mean it – if they relax instead of tensing up – then share your thought.

By the way, this only works when you have a history of top-notch job performance and you give them positive feedback as well.

Be very careful. And, of course, ask yourself:

Am I making it safe for others to give me feedback? If not, stay open yourself before worrying about managing up.

There are a lot of thoughts on “managing up” out there – these are some of mine.

What do you think?

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