5 Tips for Managing Up
Top leadership coaches share their advice for making the most of your relationship with your boss.
The idea of “managing up” was first coined by Harvard Business Review in 1980—it’s “a process of consciously working with your superior to obtain the best possible results for you, your boss and your company.” Basically, when you manage up, everybody wins; you proactively do what you can to make your manager's job easier and, as a result, you're considered indispensable and a valuable asset. We’ve got advice from top executive coaches on how to do it right.
The Skill Set: How to Manage Up
1. Build your relationship
“In order to manage up, you need to understand your boss and know what motivates her to come to work each day,” says Lea McLeod, a leadership development coach. Lea explains that, as you work together, you’ll learn how she deals with stress, how she likes to take in information, how she deals with conflict, how she likes to give feedback, how she makes decisions and what her strengths and weaknesses are. With this information, you can consciously manage your relationship so that you’re both able to get the most out of it that you can. “Put yourself in your boss's shoes regularly," says Career Consultant and Executive Coach Maggie Mistal. “See things from their perspective, and you'll be a lot more compassionate and a lot more savvy about how you work with them.”
2. Focus on making your boss’ life easier
You want to be proactive about anticipating and meeting their needs. “At the end of the day, you’re there to make your boss successful,” Lea says. “Every boss could use support,” says Maggie. “Managing up means stepping in to help your boss shine. In turn, they’ll want to help you shine, too.
3. Identify ways to complement their strengths and weaknesses
“Your boss hired you because she believes you can make her more successful, and everything you do should be with that goal in mind,” says Lea. “Your boss isn’t perfect—no one is—so identify ways in which you can add value where she may be lacking.” Maggie shared a personal example of a boss she had who was a great presenter, but not a great PowerPoint-builder; without being asked, she created the presentation for him. She made him look good to his boss, and, in turn, he actively looked for ways to help her.
4. Don't overstep
“Don't try to do your boss' job for him or her or try to outshine them,” advises Maggie. If your boss has a weakness where you may be able to add value, offer your help, but don’t act unless they accept it. “If she isn't interested in your help, your ‘managing up’ efforts could be viewed as stepping on toes or worse—a threat,” she says. “A boss who feels threatened by your talents isn't going to help you shine.” Everything you do should be positioned from the perspective of helping your boss be successful. “With any action you take, let your boss know you’re doing so with the intent of helping her or the team,” says Lea. “That way, it’s unlikely she’ll feel like you’re overstepping. Ask her to tell you if she ever feels you are crossing a line.”
5. When things aren’t going well, go to your boss first
“If you encounter a dysfunctional manager who is absent, obsessive or incompetent, communicate your concerns directly to him or her first,” suggests Ann Mehl, an executive and business coach. “Ask specifically for what you need from him or her to be successful.” Maggie suggests reminding yourself that your boss is doing the best they can. “Appreciate your boss for what they do well,” she says.
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Image courtesy of Ivanka Trump. Illustration by Jonny Ruzzo.