5 Keys to Managing Up

Posted on October 19, 2011.

For the first several years of my career, I never even knew what it meant to manage up. Focusing on results, coaching, and leading my team occupied all of my time and were the only things I really cared about it. But it was very frustrating watching peers with less success and less experience get promoted ahead of me. Clearly, they had learned the fine art of managing up way before me, but better late than never.

These 5 keys to managing up successfully are based as much on what I did wrong as ...

  1. Admit other people may have some great ideas. For many years, when I was in meetings with peers and my boss, I was very dismissive of other’s ideas.  I usually either tuned them out or pointed out what was wrong.  Your boss is sitting there watching as you find the fault in every idea. This is not an attractive trait.  In reality, there were some pretty smart people in the room. Even if you don’t agree, find a way to verbalize at least one positive aspect of the idea and contribute to making it better. Your boss will see you’re a team player and your peers will be more trusting.
  2. Don’t criticize- Offer Solutions. Every company or office has problems. Most people are great at vocalizing them.  Find out what the biggest barrier to success for your group is and solve it. Then and only then go to your boss with both the challenge and the solutions. Don’t you love it when someone that works for you actually offers solutions to problems instead of just complaining about them?  So does your boss!
  3. Find a communication method that works.  Not everyone has their blackberry attached to their fingers and checks voicemail every five minutes. Find out what your boss’s preferred time and method of communication is and adjust your own.  Make sure you are only sending information that has value or needs attention. The same principal applies to voicemails.
  4. Keep your boss informed.  The last thing you want is to have a high valued customer surprise your boss by calling to complain.  You also want to keep your boss informed of some of your key accomplishments.  Unless you work in a very small office where everyone is co-located, your boss is only going to know what you tell him or her. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn.
  5. Take Responsibility.  Even if there are many people involved in a failure, be the one to step up and take ownership.  You should be doing this anyway with your team.  Doing anything less lacks personal courage and leadership, which are key strengths your boss will notice.

It’s easy to stay focused only on results and ignore the politics of the office.  But the truth is that realizing there is a larger world operating outside your environment will not only help you advance in your career, it will make you a better manager.