leadership managing upwards

Managing upwards. 5 practical tips for managing your manager successfully.

Managing upwards is one of those terms that are never in a job description, and in my case and probably yours is a concept that you might not have thought about much, particularly in the early stages of a management journey.

In this blog post, we will explore the importance of managing upwards successfully to increase your job satisfaction and set you up for career progression.

What is it, and why it matters?

For a more formal definition of what is managing upwards, some career experts might define managing upwards as a deliberate and conscious way of developing your career by working for a common benefit with your manager.

This does not mean a manipulative, rebellious or fake trying-to-please relationship with your manager; it is more in understanding the objectives to be accomplished and the contribution each level in the organization contributes to those objectives. In particular, your manager’s objectives and deliberately and strategically pick tasks that you can accomplish with high quality and minimum oversight and execute them on your manager’s behalf.

The areas you choose to help out should be given strategic thinking to ensure that you pick tasks that will increase your executive presence and minimise your risk of not completing them or doing a mediocre job.

Additionally, more general aspects of managing upwards, like clear communication, transparency and trust, are essential. Still, they are also crucial in managing downwards and sidewards.

Why is managing up important?

In general, managing upwards successfully will increase your job satisfaction, and the reason is that by improving work efficiency, communication and productivity with your manager. You will be more efficient, need less oversight, and, most importantly, take on tasks that are usually the responsibility of your manager that will allow you to learn new skills in a safe environment. As these tasks are not your responsibility, they will also create evidence that you can operate at that level in preparation for a promotion.

Moreover, just the fact to improve your communication with your manager will already be a great win as statistically, the relationship between you and your manager is already set to be poor for a variety of reasons, not only because your manager might lack some skills starting for good communications skills but also time management, lack of domain expertise, stakeholder management and others.

So stabilising the best relationship with your manager that is possible will for sure help your career in the future and make your job satisfaction increase in the present. That is one of the fundamental reasons to manage upwards accordingly.

How to manage up successfully?

Managing up “do’s”

There are a variety of things that you can do to manage upward success. Here are some that are recognized to be some of the top ones:

1. Be honest about what you want and what you are keen to help your manager

I can’t forget the first time I spoke with one of my best managers. He started our conversation by saying, “I know you applied for this position. I’m here temporarily as I usually operate at a higher level, so I will support you in getting ready to be promoted, and I expect you to help me to do the same”. This transparency put us at a level where we were ready to support each other to be successful.

2. Be proactive in anticipating your manager’s needs.

The best way to get yourself set for a promotion or even a good performance review is to get pieces of responsibilities that you will get if you are one level up. If your manager struggles to complete a presentation, report or meeting because of a packed schedule, offer help with a small task so that you can do a great job and impress your manager.

Although don’t forget to drop the balls that are your responsibility as otherwise, that will for sure penalise you more than not delivering (and committing in the first place) to tasks that are not your responsibility anyway.

3. Understand your manager’s values and working patterns

Good communication starts from understanding who you are communicating with and adapting your communication to that person to optimize their comprehension. In other words, find your manager preferred methods to communicate – email, in-person, … – and make sure that you communicate as often as possible. Senior managers like to know what is happening and not be caught without that information. Even if you have a micromanaging type of manager is better to keep him updated than not, as your manager will ask you less about what is happening.

4. Don’t lower the bar on yourself.

If your manager is not an example of top performance, try not to let that influence your to set for less. Too often, people will start not performing well because they don’t have an excellent example from the manager. Avoid it. Keep your mind in the long run and improve your performance, not lower it. If you don’t have a good relationship with your manager, won’t let that let you get down and try to do the best job you can.

5. Communicate with your manager

Usually, when things don’t go as planned, we try to fix and hide them. Or at least it is to fix it and not communicate it to your manager. Avoid this. If you can fix it, then yes, definitely do it but communicate it to your manager. Sooner or later, he or she will probably find out, and it is better to communicate this in a controlled way. That by someone else or even worse in a meeting with other stakeholders will mostly feel bad for your manager as he or she will look not in control.

Managing up “don’ts”

When managing upwards, there are a few situations that you should avoid. These are the three fundamental ones to avoid:

1. Manipulate

In leadership, there is a fine line between manipulation and good sister persuasion. No one likes to be manipulated, and this is particularly critical if it is manipulating your manager, that is a crucial decision-maker for your career progression.

2. Try to hide things (Especially the bad ones)

Always communicate with your manager, in particular in bad situations. As a good leader, own your responsibility when something goes wrong. Tell the situation to your manager and how you are fixing it.

3. Don’t gossip or get involved in office politics

Getting involved in office politics and gossip, mainly if it is related to your manager but generally about anyone, will leave marks on your reputation.
Anyone who finds out you are involved in gossip will associate your name, assuming you also gossip about them.

What is the difference between managing upwards and downwards?

As we have seen, managing upwards is critical for your career success, but what are the main differences between managing upwards and downwards?

Final thoughts

Managing upwards is a concept that doesn’t seem much out of common sense as it is all about doing a great job and being a step further by supporting your manager in tasks that will be your responsibility when you get to operate at that level at some point. But the reality is that the simple things are easier to slip through our fake busy lives.

Perhaps one way to make sure that you think strategically about how to manage upwards is to set maybe 30 minutes, at least at the beginning of blocked time in your calendar, to think strategically about how to manage upwards.

If you would like to read more, check out all my articles. In particular about leadership, management, strategic thinking, decision making and self-improvement.

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