June 26th 2020
Techie with a passion to write about work, life and people
We all want to have a good relationship with our managers, work on impactful projects that help us advance our career, want to be highly regarded in our line of work and be trusted and respected by others. But, how often do we take charge of our own growth?
The deep seated work hierarchy in our mind thinks of management as top to bottom, manager to their direct report. We believe it’s our managers responsibility to enable trust, build a strong rapport with us, give us work that will help us shine and remove all barriers that can impede our success at work.
It may very well be their mission to help us be the best version of ourselves because their success lies in our growth, but do we see and own the other side of this bi-directional relationship?
We seldom think about our role in the process, how we can enable our managers, what are their goals and challenges at work, what do they care about, what are their priorities and how we can make them successful.
Managing up is nothing but an investment in building a relationship with our manager to work better together. Navigating this dynamic requires taking initiative, caring for the person above, sharing responsibility and owning our own growth with a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset.
Why do we avoid managing up?
We avoid managing up because of our beliefs, apprehension of what may happen and denial of our role in the process. For easy recollection, think of it as the BAD framework in our mind. We assume managing up is bad, while the opposite is true.
B – Belief
In my conversations with multiple people, managing up seems to bring up a negative sentiment. People relate managing up with a lack of trust in their manager, a belief that they need to manage up only when their manager is not capable of doing their job.
While a bad manager may or may not be a reality for you, managing up is effective for everyone, including managers and people in leadership positions – they have bosses too.
Your manager will always need your support to influence them and help them make the right decisions. It cannot happen unless you are proactive in grabbing the right opportunity to be effective in your work.
A – Apprehension
Our fear is the biggest driver of our action or inaction in certain cases. We do not act with the fear of what our manager might think, how they might react or feel if we try to manage up.
If you look through the right lens, managing up is actually highly beneficial for managers as both of you learn to care, challenge each other, become partners in achieving goals and own success together.
Managers can’t do it alone. They do not have a separate path to success. Your success is their success.
D – Denial
We deny our role in our current circumstances, because it’s easier to blame others than to assume responsibility for our own state.
We happily sit within our comfort zone afraid to step out, take charge and fix what needs fixing. Not only that leads to mediocre performance, it also shuts us to explore and create a better future for ourselves and others.
Blaming your manager for your state is an easy path you can take, but managing up needs courage. It requires taking charge of your own growth.
In his book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey writes about taking responsibility
Show me someone who is humble enough to accept and take responsibility for his or her circumstances and courageous enough to take whatever initiative is necessary to creatively work his or her way through or around these challenges, and I’ll show you the supreme power of choice
Your manager can do less managing down if you can do more managing up. Let’s learn how.
How do you manage up effectively?
The thought of managing up could be intimidating – How do you manage your own manager?
So, how about rephrasing it as “choosing to communicate effectively upwards”. Notice the word “choice” which makes us feel powerful through autonomy and a sense of control. So, next time thinking of managing up gives you the creeps, simply rephrase it as “choosing to communicate effectively upwards.”
Key to managing up is in the decision to act by taking charge of building your relationship with your manager, behaving in ways that builds trust, aligning your priorities with their priorities and doing work that shares their goals and mission. It requires opting out of the drama triangle and taking on the role of the creator instead of acting as the victim.
So, while we cannot change others, let’s do our best to influence them by practicing these 7 strategies for managing up effectively.
1. Manage up to build trust
Spend time in understanding your manager by learning about the challenges of their job, what motivates them, what keeps them occupied, what they care about and what are their priorities. A simple way to gather this information is to simply ask.
You don’t need to approach it as a formal 1-1 or define a meeting agenda to learn this information about your manager. Use informal chats to inquire and gather this data on a regular basis, show curiosity and ask questions. While talking to them, ask some of these questions:
- Why is this important to you?
- What are your top priorities?
- What’s one thing that’s top of your mind?
- What about this bothers you?
- I am curious to learn about the challenges of your role. Would you be open to share some?
- What about your work inspires you?
This information will enable you to establish a better line of communication with your manager by doing work that aligns with their goals, share your concerns in a manner that highlights a potential risk to their plan and collaborate together in finding better solutions to problems.
Managing up in this manner will build trust by enabling alignment on ideas and a desire to do better through openness to constructive conflicts.
2. Manage up to define success
We are so focussed on our individual goals that we fail to recognise what success as a team looks like. Without an understanding of what it means to succeed as a team, you may achieve your individual goals, but still fail as a team.
By knowing the success criteria of your team, you can realise and contribute to opportunities beyond your own goals. Once you understand what success looks like, you can be part of that success by
- Negotiating and setting your own priorities
- Seeking clarity in your work
- Questioning the effectiveness of your work
- Identifying and taking on additional responsibilities
- Saying no to work that does align with the success of your team
3. Manage up to get the support you need
Want more responsibility, more autonomy? Be your own advocate and ask for it.
You may also need support to do your job better. Unless your manager is deeply involved in your day-to-day activities and takes time to connect with you outside work, it may not be possible for them to identify what support you need.
If you do not take charge of your own effectiveness and efficiency at work, you will be limited in the outcome of your work and the impact it can generate.
So, take the lead to identify what support you need by discussing
- What prevents you from achieving your goals
- What can you do to overcome these obstacles
- How can they help
Managing up by recognising your own needs and finding best ways to fulfil those needs can make you effective in your job enabling you to do more, better.
4. Manage up to make your work visible
Your manager may know your intent, but unless you show them the impact of your work, they may not realise the value you bring to the team.
Expecting your manager to pull updates from you can leave you at the mercy of their time and their willingness to show interest in your work. By utilising a push model you can provide them with necessary updates at the right time including both good as well as bad news.
By keeping them in the loop on important issues, you not only build trust but also provide them with an opportunity to attend to issues before it’s too late.
Isn’t push more efficient than pull for both you and your manager?
Managing up by taking an initiative to showcase your work and seeking help on important issues, you can get your manager’s support to do more forward looking work.
5. Manage up to help them see their blindspots
Most managers are oblivious of how others perceive them in the workplace and the impact their behaviour and actions have on others. These blind spots can make them take certain decisions or act in ways that are detrimental to the growth of the team.
By helping your manager see their blind spots, you can enable them to recognise and make changes in their way of working with others.
Be careful though. While conveying the message is crucial, it should not be disrespectful. Your manager will engage in a constructive discussion as long as it doesn’t hurt their ego.
Let’s take an example. Instead of saying “you micromanage”, mention “I think I am now ready to have less supervision and guidance on my work. I hope you can trust me to update you when there’s significant progress and reach out for any support I may need. Meeting multiple times during the day distracts me to focus on my work and prevents me from making progress on my tasks. What do you think?”
The first message can make them defensive, while the second one allows them to think and reflect on the intent.
Managing up by sharing feedback is not only beneficial for the manager, it can be highly useful for the team who benefits from the changes that such feedback can provide.
6. Manage up to align on work preferences
Do you need to work from home on a specific day of the week, be home by a certain time in the evening to look after your child or have any other work preferences?
If your manager does not ask about your work preferences, which in most cases they won’t, it’s your responsibility to communicate it to them.
Without keeping them apprised of your situation and how you plan to manage work, you can cause confusion, mis-alignment of expectations and prevent them from helping you do your work effectively.
Openly discuss your work preferences and learn about your manager’s expectations
- Seek advice as opposed to being demanding
- Discuss how meetings can be organised for maximum participation
- How and when you will be available to your team members
- How do you plan to manage other dependencies
Your manager won’t anticipate your needs and cannot help you unless you talk to them about it. They may have work preferences too. So, remember to ask them about it and be flexible to agree on a common solution that works for both of you.
Managing up by being transparent about your specific needs can shift your mind to focus on the work as opposed to worrying about its implications.
7. Manage up to communicate effectively
Not knowing your manager’s preferred mode of communication for different kinds of issues can be highly ineffective for the team. You may end up sending an email for an urgent issue without knowing that your manager only checks their email twice a day or send them a text update on information that’s best conveyed through an email.
By using the preferred mode of communication, you can get their attention on the right things at the right time.
Managing up by learning your manager’s preference and aligning on communication guidelines can help you to be highly productive by utilising the right channels to communicate and get the desired attention.
Imagine a team in which everyone communicates effectively upwards and makes an effort to take charge of their own growth. You can be the one to bring about this change in your team. Make the choice now.
Do employees in your organisation manage up?