How to Manage Upward [10 Key Tips]

by | Oct 2, 2020

nicoa dunne
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The idea of managing upward has seemingly negative connotations to it in that those who hear the term might assume it’s related to bad management. You might assume the term relates to a boss who micromanages, forces overtime, or who unevenly distributes workloads throughout the office, but that’s actually not the case.

Managing up isn’t about fixing a bad manager, kissing up to them, or manipulating them into doing what you would like them to do. Instead, it’s taking on a certain level of leadership upon yourself as your manager’s go-to support system. It’s about taking responsibility for that upward relationship by using management skills to manage and foster the professional relationship you have with your boss, so that everyone works more efficiently together.

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Think about it. When you’ve left positions in the past, was it because of the job or the leadership at that job? Poor management continues to reign supreme as one of the top reasons people leave their positions to seek other employment. Anyone who’s worked understands the detrimental effects poor management can have with teams ultimately ending up less productive and profitable than well-managed groups. Yet at the end of the day, poor management or not, you own creating and fostering that type of relationship with your leadership as much as they do.

Every Boss and Management Style is Different

Whether you’ve worked at many different places or only one, you’ve certainly bumped into at least two different leaders with differing management styles. It comes with the workplace territory the same way personalities come with people. Each manager will have different strengths and weaknesses, and what matters most to one manager won’t matter at all to another.

Knowing how to properly manage upward will help you better navigate both the best and worst aspects of your current management team. Managing up is about looking at the best qualities of your manager and finding ways to hone and expand them so that the best traits can encourage, empower, and cause you and your teammates to excel as employees, not the other way around. Look for the good, don’t dwell on the bad if you want success.

Successfully Managing Up with a Few Simple Steps

While all this managing up stuff might seem like more than you’re able (or willing) to do, it’s actually quite simple to implement it successfully. In fact, it’s as simple as putting your best foot forward, which will in turn, create value for your boss, your company and, as a result, YOU.

Use the traits of a great manager to support your boss, and that will cause a chain reaction among your teammates AND your leader. In other words, be the change you wish to see in your leader!

Here are some steps to managing up effectively:

  1. Compassion: Managers who foster this trait get to know their employees well and vice versa. Show a genuine interest in your manager’s general well-being and celebrate their victories.
  2. Guidance: A good manager is there to guide his or her employees with truthful, supportive feedback. In return, someone who is managing up should provide honest feedback to their boss.
  3. Communication: While not all managers can communicate with each individual employee via their preferred method, the employees can communicate with the manager in his or her preferred method. This shows that you are actively listening to your manager’s needs and is a component of practicing effective communication. Pay attention to what channels work well and use them.
  4. Career Growth: You want to get to know your manager’s plans for their own career development. This can help you manage up because it gives you an opportunity to see how you can help them achieve that goal.
  5. Composure: While it’s not always easy, remaining calm and keeping composure under pressure and change is a great leadership ability. Take this a step farther and help your manager when they experience pressure. For example, anticipate and offer to help with some of the tasks they’re facing.
  6. Fairness: When a manager is being fair, they’re taking a person’s capacity and developmental goals into consideration while they’re assigning tasks. You can engage in this as well by giving them positive feedback, which will reinforce the behaviors you wish to see more of in their leadership approach with you
  7. Weakness: Learn how to support your boss’s weaknesses. That doesn’t mean you should enable or encourage bad habits, but you should acknowledge the areas that need some improvement and do what you can to help. For example, if your boss is always late to meetings, you could offer to get the next meeting started for them.
  8. Work Ethic: Keep putting your best foot forward. Oftentimes, when we feel unappreciated, or that our efforts have gone unnoticed, we begin to let the quality of our work deteriorate and we give up. This only leads to more frustration for you and your boss. In order to achieve recognition and appreciation, make sure that you keep a strong work ethic by role modeling what good work looks like.
  9. Firmness: Remember that bullies derive power from fear. If your boss tends to yell, criticize, or judge—hold your position. Seek to understand the meaning behind the criticism and diffuse the situation by listening first, validating what you hear, then asking for any clarification. Don’t cower and don’t give in to anger. Instead, be proud of the work you’ve done, and keep striving for improvement while firmly responding with your truth if there is a perceived gap.
  10. Be Thankful: As aforementioned, your boss is probably under an immense amount of stress. If he or she has gone out of their way to do something to help you, or make your job a little easier, be sure to let them know that you appreciate it. We all like to be acknowledged and appreciated for the work that we do—your manager is no exception. Again, role model the behavior you want to see more of from your boss.

The second part of managing up is pausing long enough to breathe. Try not to look at the suggestions above as things that you have to accomplish on top of your regular, demanding schedule. Instead, take a deep breath, observe what needs to be done then take it one step at a time, and slowly implement these suggestions as you go. Being aware of them is half the challenge.

For example, begin by observing your manager to see which areas seem to need additional support. Choose one area for each week that you’d like to manage up. Before you know it, you’ll be managing up naturally, and it won’t go unnoticed. When you make the job about another’s success, your success comes more easily. This is a large part of your job, anticipating the needs of your manager.

So, where’s this big payoff? The more you manage up, the more supported your manager will feel. Before you know it, your manager may suddenly become more relaxed and patient and, oh by the way, see you as a go to resource and partner for his or her success. Your work environment is sure to see vast improvements as well, and you’ll go from dreading your workplace to enjoying it once again. You own it now go make it happen!

Got questions about managing up or other career-related topics? Chat with Nicoa Dunne today!