Let me guess - your boss isn’t perfect. You wish they would give you more feedback, be more creative, engage with you more often - or any other number of imperfections you’ve homed in on. This is exactly why you need to begin managing up. By managing up, you help your manager improve these skills while developing your leadership abilities.
Managing up is an often neglected responsibility. Why? It takes effort. Our desks and minds fill with other obligations. Yet we continue to expect our supervisors to know what we want, what we need to grow, and our true potential. After all, that’s their job, isn’t it? No. It’s our job. Our managers and leaders don’t have telepathic skills – it’s up to us to help them understand our needs. As team members, it’s incumbent upon us to help our managers see their blind spots, act more effectively, and make decisions that are in service to their business goals. This skill can be especially important for those who have managers that are hands-off, remote or (dare I say it) long-winded. Emerging leaders must lean forward with their managers – help them see what’s possible and, in the process, help themselves. The best leaders don’t mind being gently managed by their direct reports. In fact, busy managers want help seeing the bigger picture. Here are a few ways you can manage up:
Make clear your intentions.
There is no magic that will allow your boss to know what you want and need professionally. Be explicit with your boss in the early part of this year about your professional goals. Most importantly, explain why those goals are important to you. Conveying the “why” is critical – it allows your supervisor to understand your motivations, which will help them identify opportunities for your development. Consider using Simon Sinek’s “Golden Circle” framework for expressing your intentions. The framework may help you illustrate what you want, how you envision yourself getting to that end, and finally (and perhaps most critically), why that goal is important to you. This comprehensive approach to sharing your intentions will enable your supervisor to support you more fully.
Offer proposed solutions.
In 2018, challenge yourself to not only identify issues to bring to your manager’s attention (that’s often the easy part), but offer solutions along with the issues you identify. Great managers appreciate employees offering solutions as it instantly eases the burden of the issue and initiates the process of creative solution building. As a direct report and emerging leader, this allows you to 1) show your manager your depth of thinking about complex issues, 2) make it easier for your manager to choose among a variety of solutions, and 3) potentially influence the outcome of an issue that is of particular importance to you. This proactive approach will help your manager see you as one who doesn’t call just to point out problems or complain, but as an employee who supports them and the team’s mission.
Be low maintenance.
Your manager has 99 problems; you should not be one of them. Anticipating the needs of your supervisor will make you a low maintenance employee. What’s that mean? It means you are not on your boss’s “to do” list. And that’s a good thing. Through active anticipation, aim to consistently add value to your supervisor and the program, office, and business you serve. In practice, this first means the simple things: show up on time, meet administrative responsibilities (e.g. time cards, leave forms, travel claims, etc.), and communicate with respect and thoughtfulness. As a second-tiered efforts, offer your support in thinking strategically about your office’s way ahead, share unsolicited thoughts on challenging issues facing the business, or volunteer to provide support outside your normal swim lane. Being low maintenance opens space for you and your supervisor to focus on bigger issues and paths ahead for your office, your manager-direct-report relationship and most importantly, your growth.
Be intentional and gentle with this approach – it is a delicate skill. Managing up too aggressively can come across as condescending, brown-nosing, or over-achieving – all turnoffs to our supervisors. Engage with thoughtful precision, being kind, reflective, and open during engagements with your supervisor. Help them manage your development as you ascend to your smart summit.
What are some constructive ways you’ve managed up and how has it helped with your growth?