One of the fastest and most effective ways to grow your career is to build a strong allyship with your manager.
This is easier said than done though. Managers are busy. They get pulled in multiple directions, and many are leading people for the first time with little to no leadership training.
Learning to manage up is a mutually beneficial way to grow your career. You support your manager and help them succeed, and in turn, they support you, help you optimize your productivity, and help you grow your career.
What is managing up?
When most people picture “managing others,” the image that comes to mind is of traditional top-down management. Bosses instruct and coach their direct reports, who then go on to manage the people underneath them. But in most organizations, “managing” should be happening from the bottom-up, too.
Managing up is essentially managing your manager. It involves being proactive to get what you need from your boss to do your job to the best of your ability.
Practically speaking, managing up could also look like:
- Following up, sending reminders, and setting deadlines
- Thinking ahead to identify potential risks to your success and bringing solutions to your manager
- Asking and advocating for your needs
- Taking the initiative to improve processes and workflows
5 Ways to Manage Up Effectively
Managing up isn’t difficult with the right tools, but it does take time and intentionality. Here are five strategies to manage up more effectively.
- Get to know your manager’s strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and workstyle. A well-rounded understanding of your boss is a key requirement for managing up effectively. This will help mitigate risks to your success before they arise and will allow you to strategically adjust your work style to compliment your manager. Learning how your manager prefers to work and then adjusting your workstyle to complement theirs is foundational to managing up. If you haven’t already had a conversation to discuss workstyle and communication preferences, this will be the very first step you’ll need to take. Assessments like DISC and CliftonStrengths are helpful to create shared definitions around these preferences—as well as blind spots you may need to work around in the future. Getting to know your boss in this way will make it easier for you to put yourself in their shoes and see things from their perspective. A little empathy can go a long way—especially when managing up. For example, you might learn that your boss only checks his email twice a day—first thing in the morning and right before he signs off at night. Armed with this knowledge, you can adapt how you communicate time-sensitive matters. If you need to send a document to a client within a couple of hours, you might try sending a Slack or a text for a shorter turnaround.
- Don’t make assumptions. Many a relationship—at work and otherwise—has seen damaged because one person thinks they know the unknowable: the other’s reasons or motivations for doing or not doing or forgetting to do something. When we make assumptions, we create fictional stories about the other person—and often those stories reflect poorly on them. After all, we humans are hard-wired for negativity. For example, let’s say your boss leaves an important text as “read” but doesn’t respond for several hours. You could build a story in your head about how she doesn’t care about you, doesn’t like you, or how she’s lazy and forgetful. You may even begin to wonder why she hired you in the first place if she places such little value on giving you what you need for a project. Suddenly, you’re calling your entire relationship with your boss into question. When she finally does respond, she is apologetic and explains how she was called into a meeting and accidentally left her phone in the car. It can be hard not to assume the worst, but you’ll be better able to manage up if you reserve judgment and keep an open mind about your manager’s motivations.
- Get clear on goals and priorities. At the end of the day, both you and your manager likely want the same thing: for you and your team to succeed. With this knowledge as the foundation, it’s important to periodically have conversations that provide clarity and alignment around goals and priorities. Getting on the same page is a key factor in managing up. Meeting weekly with direct reports one-on-one is a widely-accepted management best practice, so if you don’t already have this time with your manager set up each week, take the initiative to schedule it. This weekly one-on-one is critical to managing up, as it will also provide a forum for asking questions, making requests, and getting clarity on expectations.
- Provide purposeful support. Support your boss by taking work off their plate and helping them execute on their strategy. Provide useful information and help them make decisions and problem solve. When you can, advocate for them. One of the best ways to win the attention and support of your boss is to support them and help them to succeed.
- Be patient. Building your managing up muscle will take practice, so be patient with yourself—and your manager. There will probably be mistakes and missteps along the way, but instead of seeing these as failures, view them as opportunities for improvement. The best way to learn is by doing, so every mistake offers a chance to learn. What’s more, you’ll need to be patient with your manager, too. Adapting to a new way of working together will take time on her end as well, especially if her plate is already full. The shift will likely benefit everyone in the end, but keep in mind that there will be a “getting used to something new” period for both of you.
Grow Others To Grow Your Career
At its core, managing up is really about building your relationship with your boss. You support them, get to know their style, and get to know how you can help them. In turn, they get to know you better, learning about your ambitions and skills and how they can help you. By proactively setting yourself up for success, you also prime your boss, team, and department for success.
Kevin Kruse is the Founder + CEO of LEADx, a platform that scales and sustains leadership habits through micro-coaching and behavioral nudges. Kevin is also a New York Times bestselling author of Great Leaders Have No Rules, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, and Employee Engagement 2.0.