Managing up can sound manipulative - it’s not. It really boils down to one thing:
When someone is in a position of authority it’s easy to forget they are often overwhelmed, tired, or focused on anything other than your performance.
At its core, management is about:
There’s no reason this should only go top-down.
So here are 10 ways to manage up - that your boss will thank you for.
Being successful at your job is often the best way to work well with your manager. You can only do that if you are both crystal clear about what that means.
Here are a few questions to ask your manager to build a shared understanding of success:
Don’t be afraid to ask these questions even if you have been in your position for a while. You can say that you realized you hadn't discussed the KPIs for your position formally.
You may think you know what they are, but it's important to confirm you're on the same page.
We’re all just people. There's no getting around it. No matter what the numbers say on a day-to-day basis, people have a whole other world going on in their head.
They have struggles, funny things that happen, and insecurities just like you do. It’s exhausting to pretend this isn’t the case every day.
The chance to honestly answer the question “How’s today going for you so far?” is a breath of fresh air.
Work is not family. But you probably see your coworkers just as often, if not more. So you might as well be a human first and a churn-busting robot second.
I’ve ended up with amazing friendships with former bosses of mine just by taking the time to focus on them during 1:1s for a few minutes and honestly care how they were doing.
Along with caring comes genuine curiosity. Ask what projects they are working on, and what they are measured by as a manager. If they are confused by your asking, you can explain that:
A word of warning on this - if you want to help them, you can’t create more work for them. If you see an article that might be relevant to a project they are working on, don’t just forward it along - summarize the key points.
It will win you major brownie points.
You didn’t come with instructions. But your manager wants to know how to best work with you so that you can be successful. As long as you are polite about it, let them know. Don’t be afraid to tell them what makes you most effective.
“I find that frequent interruptions mess up my focus and productivity. I want to make sure I can get (X project/ client work) done, so would it be alright if I checked my Slack once every hour or two, rather than responding immediately?
We could put a special notification in place for things that are urgent.
Would that be okay?”
There are many ways to communicate. How can you best get your messages across?
Would they prefer that you ping them with any questions or save it all for your 1:1s?
Is there a time of day when they are heads down and need to focus?
Hint - by asking these questions, your manager might ask you what your communication preferences are too. This is a good thing. Be honest about when you are most focused and able to take in information.
We’ve all got them. Random little things that drive us absolutely up the wall. And most of the time we grit our teeth and bear it. You don’t want your manager doing that with you.
So ask them if they have any pet peeves. If they mention something you’ve been doing, don’t freak out! It hasn’t caused an issue so far, and now you know you can correct it.
Most likely though, it won’t be anything major. Just a good piece of info to have.
Your manager cannot read your mind. If you want to learn something - tell them. If you want to get promoted - tell them. If you’re struggling - yes, that’s right - tell them.
We honestly do want to help. But your manager is not only focusing on you. They have other direct reports and competing priorities. Don’t wait for them to notice. You have to speak up.
Whenever possible, take the initiative on creating a plan, rather than asking for directions. For example - getting promoted.
Which approach do you think your manager would appreciate more:
You’ve taken away the grunt work. Your manager wants to help you, they are just usually overstretched. Make it as easy as possible for them to say yes.
If you are great at something, for heaven’s sake bring it up!
This is not bragging. It’s efficient. If you like working on particular kinds of projects, let them know. That’s an easy win for both of you.
It’s also okay to be honest about where your weaknesses lie. Be willing to learn, but it’s okay to admit something isn’t your strong suit. If you’re great at data but bad at presenting in front of people, that’s totally reasonable.
There will always be someone whose strengths and weaknesses are the opposite of yours. Help your manager put the right people in the right jobs.
If something works, call it out. Everyone likes to get praise, and it doesn’t have to feel awkward. A simple thank you is enough, along with the reason that you’re grateful.
“Thanks for talking me through that. I understand much better now” or “Thanks for the acknowledgment in this morning’s meeting. That meant a lot to me.”
To be clear, managing up is not about making someone else do what you want. It’s about clearing barriers and making it as easy as possible to achieve shared goals together.
Good management works in every direction. We’re all adults here. The point is to agree on shared goals and work together to make them come to fruition.
Take five minutes to think of things from your manager’s perspective, and both your worlds will flow much more smoothly.
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