Managing up, commentary

Every company has their own culture and style, and you can tell a great deal by how people interact with their boss. I’ve been fascinated by the cultural changes I’ve experienced as I’ve moved up the corporate chain, and now with nowhere else to go it’s interesting to watch people interact and manipulate around me to get where they need to go. At times crafty, at times transparent. At times I’m sure I’m getting maneuvered and don’t even realize it.


I get a lot of links to articles and I read few of them without some kind of guidance as to why the article is important. One of my major pet peeves is getting a lonely link with no context. Why do I care about this? I try to read between the lines in long URLs to determine what the context is of the article, and generally give up. I get somewhere between 10-20 articles to read every day. I need to know why it matters, or at least some crumbs to get me on the right track.


One of the articles (that did come with a synopsis) was a management “how to manage up” article, with the ask that I say what I agree with and what is nonsense. Rather than do a one-off email,  I’ll just post the article and thoughts here:


7 Ways To Manage Up


Way #1? Be effective in your job. Let’s see if that way shows up here…


#1: Know what matters to your boss. If your boss is a numbers person, then quantify all your results. And know which numbers matter most to him. All numbers people have their pet line items. If your boss is a customer-is-first kind of guy, frame all your results in terms of benefits to customers.


Off to a good start; too many employees frame up their day about what matters to the moment at hand. It’s smart to understand what your boss is worrying about, and try to align to it. Of course, if your boss is a lunatic that doesn’t care about the company or your products, it’s good to know that too… and get the hell out.


#2 Say no. Say yes to the things that matter most to your boss. Say no to everything else and your boss will appreciate that you are focused on her needs.


This is more questionable advice. Saying ‘no’ to your boss sounds like good advice on a blog column, but you’ve got to obtain a level of trust with your boss to go there. Just saying ‘no’ isn’t a good plan unless your boss trusts that you’re smart enough to understand what matters to your boss and what doesn’t. Remember, your boss is often thinking about multiple strategies, all of which might not be visible to you. So be careful about finding yourself in the position where you’re making your boss’ mind up for him or her.


#3 Talk like your boss. If your boss likes daily e-mails, send them. If your boss wants a once-a-week summary, then do that. Convey information to your boss in the way she likes so that she’s more likely to retain it.


Wise advice. More importantly, this is a life saver for you too. If you can understand how your boss likes to communicate, you can save yourself endless time by communicating the same way and cutting out a ton of filler. I always struggle when people spend what is clearly 2 hours writing a summary to me that I don’t need (or want). It’s not about me; it’s about you. Invest your time wisely. I also talk like a sailor, so don’t talk like me.


#4 Toot your own horn. Each time you do something that impacts the company, let your boss know. Leave a voicemail announcing a project went through. Send a congratulation e-mail to your team and copy your boss, which not only draws attention to your project success but also to your leadership skills.


Do the congratulation, but don’t leave voicemails.  Control your message. Voicemails are almost always a terrible idea unless they are quick summaries. Mails congratulating your team are smart; it makes your team happy and you look like a leader. Be careful about tooting your own horn too much. Too much and you become white noise.


#5 Lunch with your boss. If all things are equal, your boss will cater to the person she likes the best. So go out to lunch and talk about what interests her. Connect with her by asking her for advice on something about work. If you are very different than your boss, work hard to find common ground in your conversations.


I have lunch with people from work; but it’s a terrible way to manage up. Lunch is dubious, and people put too much stock into it. You may get a deeper connection into your boss. You may just get food. Some managers like to disconnect, or view problems in different ways. You’re playing with fire if you try to manage your boss through lunch, and you also run the risk of assuming a connection through the lunch that isn’t actually there.


#6 Seek new responsibilities. Find important holes in your department before your boss notices them. Take responsibility for filling those holes and your boss will appreciate not only your foresight, but also your ability to do more than your job.


Can’t disagree. But pick wisely. Also don’t assume that tiny jobs are equal to big jobs. Grab something meaningful.


#7 Be curious. Remember to make time to read and listen. Then ask good questions. You will make yourself more interesting to be around, and you will elicit fresh ideas from everyone around you.


Just make sure your boss understands that you’re probing, and not dumb. Frame where you’re going, make clear why you’re probing and asking. Also, avoid sensitive topics where your manager might be struggling or angry. Don’t poke at a sore spot.

About the Author

He has a twenty plus career in product creation, which includes writing and describing an endless series of bad decisions.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: