When it comes to managing up, there are two scenarios: when you’re on good terms with your boss and when you’re struggling with them. From my experience, most people seeking advice on managing up, are already struggling to align with their boss. The following tips are categorized for each scenario.
Managing Your Boss in Good Times & Bad
Build Boss Peer Relationships This is the most important activity, when it comes to managing up. You must build strong relationships with some of your boss’s peers. Why? Because times change. Situations change. Business changes. If you want to have an ability to influence your boss effectively, in good times or bad, they need to know members of their peer group value and support you.
Profile Your Boss Does your organization utilize personality and professional assessment tools like Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DiSC, Enneagram, Strengths Finder, or other solution? If yes, ask to have your own assessment done, then ask for the assessments of your boss and team. If no, ask your HR department to conduct one for your team. These are very helpful tools when identifying the best way to work with and influence your boss and peers.
Match Their Preferred Communication Style Does your boss prefer to email, phone calls, in person conversations, or chat messages? If you’re not sure, watch how they respond to each medium over time. Whichever method they seem to prefer, you should prioritize when contacting them.
Know Their Priorities Great bosses voluntarily share their own priorities with the team. If your boss does not, you can ask them to keep you abridged of the top priorities they own, that you can help them with. If you’re not comfortable asking this, watch where they focus most of their time and energy.
Share Your Priorities In physical offices, try keeping a highly visible whiteboard that displays your top priorities for everyone – especially your boss – to see. If you’re remote or hybrid, send your boss regular updates on your progress against a list of top priorities. If they feel your priorities are off, they can see them and alert you.
Ask. Don’t Tell Instead of saying, “We need to do this….” ask, “If we did this, would it achieve help our customers… increase revenue…. decrease costs… etc.?” Asking creates a more collaborative reaction in our subconscious than being told what to do.
Have an External Mentor When considering ways to influence your boss, it’s helpful to have a mentor bounce ideas off. It’s especially helpful if that mentor is external, so you can safely discuss internal politics.
Minimize Surprises Keep surprises – especially bad ones – to a minimum.
Crystal Clarity Requests Do not bring your boss problems. Bring them clear requests. Don’t say, “We need more resources.” Instead, ask, “Can we get 2 analysts for 3 weeks, starting Tuesday, to keep the project on schedule?”
Offer Solutions & Options – Not Open-Ended Inquiries Your boss is busy. We all are. Minimize the work the must do to solve your issues. Instead of saying, “We have a problem”, say, “The project is running 2 weeks behind schedule. We can deliver late and spend an extra $10K or we can hire two extra analysts for 3 weeks effort, and end on time, but run over by $15k.”
Managing Your Boss When Your Relationship is on the Rocks
Hold Boss Peer Relationships Closer Because you’re a ModernServantLeader.com reader, or a client of mine, I know you built relationships with your boss’s peers, before your relationship soured. Now is the time to flex those muscles. Spend more time with those peers and strengthen those relationships.
Practice Responses & Communications Athletes, musicians, and professionals of all types practice their skills. Business communications are no different. Practice what you will say or ask to your boss with a mentor, peers, friends, or family. Do some role-playing (in your head if nowhere else). For bonus points, record yourself speaking the key points, play it back and see what you learn.
Don’t Disagree More Than Once Everybody gets one. That’s one challenge or disagreement with your boss. If you disagreed correctly: with clarity and supporting details, you played your card. A second disagreement or confrontation will only hurt your relationship.
Overcommunicate When struggling with your boss and trying to influence them, be certain to communicate over, and over, and over, and….
Cover Your Ass No, we’re not talking about your donkey. Document discussions and decisions. Use email for confirmations and direction. Keep the receipts.
There you have it. 15 Tips for managing up, in good times and bad with your boss. If you could use more help influencing effectively or building better bosses in your organization, contact me, I’d love to help.
Managing Up: Top Tips Video Transcript
How can you manage up more effectively?
In one of my recent leadership development courses, the group requested a deep dive on how to manage up more effectively. Here are the three top tips that we covered.
First, see the flag. Second, don’t confront ask. And third, build relationships up. What do each of these mean? Let’s take a look.
1. See the Flag
First, see the flag.
Now, any good people leader needs to manage up at times. However, it’s been my experience that it’s a big red flag, when we struggle to manage up effectively. Frankly, that’s when people go looking for help on how to manage up. It’s not when the relationship is going well. And that’s probably why you’re here watching this video now.
So if you struggle to manage your boss effectively, there’s a good chance that something is broken. That’s the red flag. And the red flag indicates one or more of the following, from my experience.
1.1. Your Boss is Struggling
First, that your boss is struggling to deliver and meet the expectations that their boss has of them.
1.2. Your Boss is Not Happy with Your Results
Or it could be that your boss is not happy with your results and is not doing a good job of communicating this fact to you.
1.3. Executive Leadership Disconnect
Or third, it could be that there is a disconnect somewhere between you and executive leadership. Now, that disconnect could be your boss who is the actual person who’s disconnected. But at the core issue there is a project or problem or foundational belief that there’s a disconnect somewhere between you and executive leadership. So what do you do?
You dig into these potential issues. If you have a mentor or executive you trust. Talk through the potential issues with them. Make sure you’re not missing something. Assume nothing. And walk through what could be the red flag that you’re missing.
2. Don’t Confront. Ask.
Second, don’t confront, but ask.
When we struggle to manage up effectively, it’s easy to become frustrated. When we’re frustrated, we tend to become more confrontational. Don’t do it.
Instead, approach every suggestion or change as a question. Don’t say, “we should do this.” Instead, ask your boss, “If we did this, would it save us time, money, etc..
Don’t say, “this project is a higher priority.” Instead, ask “Is this project a higher priority?”
3. Boss Peer Relationships
Third, build relationships up.
This is the most important point. I don’t know why more leadership-development experts are not speaking of this. My failure to do this effectively has burned me badly in my career.
You must build relationships with your boss’s peers. Why? Because people change. Priorities change. Relationships change. What began as a perfect working relationship between you and your boss can sour suddenly and quickly.
For any number of reasons. Your boss could turn into a selfish, immoral jackass and yes, I have experience and the scars to prove it.
When that happens, they can be kept in check by peers with whom you have a strong relationship, if you’ve built it. Now, even if they’re not kept in check your value those peer relationships as you seek new opportunities in the same organization or elsewhere.
And there you have it. The top three Tips for Managing Up.
If you’re interested in more tips for managing up, you can check out the post on the same topic at ModernServantLeader.com.
I’m Ben Lichtenwalner. If you could use a little help managing or preventing bad boss behaviors at your company, shoot me an email.
Ben Lichtenwalner is the founder and principal of Modern Servant Leader and Radiant Forest, LLC. He has studied and promoted servant leadership awareness and adoption for over 20 years. He is the author of 2 leadership books and has 2 decades of corporate management and leadership experience. His corporate experience spans CIO, VP, Director, and many management roles at Fortune 500, INC 500, and Nonprofits. Ben’s education includes a B.S. in Management Science & Information Systems from Penn State University and an MBA from Lehigh University. Ben's Full Profile Here:About Ben Lichtenwalner
Martin Luther King is among the greatest Servant Leaders this world has ever seen. His vision, leadership and ultimate sacrifice blazed a path for millions. There are many great posts, videos and other references that remind us of his vision and social injustices he would fight still today. Below are some of my favorites.
Kickstart 2024 with 24 innovative leadership goals! From enhancing feedback systems to investing in AI strategy, discover metrics-driven objectives for effective people management. Perfect for leaders seeking impactful change.
Okay, you asked for it, here’s my personal reading of an old favorite: The SERVANT-LEADER’S Night Before Christmas. I hope you enjoy it and have a wonderful Christmas with friends, family, and loved ones.