How to manage up

Have you ever left an organisation because you couldn’t work with your boss? That’s frighteningly common. Before you take that leap, STOP. Try a technique called “managing up”. That means managing your manager.

We’ve all got bosses and need to work with them. The idea behind “managing up” is that you learn to manage the relationship because you understand what makes your manager tick, what his or her communication style, needs and wants are and what their goals and objectives, blind spots, pressures and issues are?

Too often we do our job and don’t think about the wider organisation. The boss is human. If you can put yourself in your manager’s shoes and really understand what’s important to them, it could be a real bonus for your career.

When you understand this you become more valuable to your manager and the organisation. What’s more, being useful to your boss can turn out to be your ace card in the organisation. It’s a great way to get noticed and could see you get noticed come review time.

Managing up is a relatively new concept that people didn’t put into words 15 years or so ago, says Pete Noblet, senior regional director at Hays.

So, how do you do it?

  • Analyse your boss. Observe and ask questions says Noblet. But think about the person’s style first. If they’re secretive, for example, ask others for advice rather than going direct to your boss. If he or she is an open person, then ask for a meeting and be direct with the questioning.
  • Adapt. Once you understand how your boss works and what’s important, look at ways to adapt your work to dovetail in. That might be by being proactive, or by presenting solutions not problems. One such adjustment, says Noblet, could be providing verbal reports to your boss if he/she prefers that, or conversely moving communication onto email if that is your boss’s style. Don’t try to change your boss. It rarely works. Lead by example from below.
  • Anticipate. Knowing your boss’s style enables you to anticipate what might be required. If your boss is an abstract thinker, says Noblet, be prepared with ideas. If he or she is an analytical thinker, have the numbers or solutions ready. If you know they require detail, get that detail.
  • Complement. Someone who manages up well can complement areas of weakness with strength, says Noblet. Not everyone makes a great leader. If you’re complementing your boss’s weaknesses, together you make a stronger team. In short, you both win.

Be determined. It may not work first time. But keep trying until you find out how to manage your manager.

Be determined. It may not work first time. But keep trying until you find out how to manage your manager.

Finally, managing up isn’t about sucking up. Instead working to the benefit of you both. Relationships can be repaired. So do it well and you could create an environment that everyone positively enjoys working in.