Recently I’ve read a lot of literature on the topic of “Managing Up”, and it seems either leadership experts agree that this isn’t something that should ever be attempted and there are those that think this can be a necessary means to creating effective working relationships between an employee and manager. There are also many definitions of the term “managing up” from “building a successful working relationship with a superior, manager, or employer” to “the act of managing your manager or boss."
If done respectfully and thoughtfully, managing up can be a useful strategy to build trust in a direct reporting relationship for the benefit of both parties. However, if approached the wrong way, managing up can lead to highly dysfunctional relationships, and could have dire consequences. The first consideration for whether or not managing up is something that is needed, the employee needs to ask himself if the benefits outweigh the potential consequences. Be clear about what the benefits truly are, and if the existing relationship has already proven to be based on trust and open communication. In addition, be sure to be clear about what your motivation is. If it is to prove that you know more than your manager, to ingratiate yourself, to control your boss, or to get promoted, then this is not going to be an effective strategy. If your goal is to truly support your supervisor in order to see him or her succeed, then that is a sound reason for the managing up approach.
The key to “managing up” is to start with yourself, not with your manager. Here are a few considerations when attempting to “manage up”:
This entails asking questions with the goal of understanding your manager’s working style, pressures, strengths, weaknesses, and goals.
Offer assistance to ease the workload of your supervisor, particularly if you have an area of strength that your supervisor does not.
Be innovative. Offer ideas.
Develop a relationship that is transparent and mutually beneficial. If your manager is successful, so are you.
Listen and learn.
Don’t try to change your manager, as that will backfire. Focus on listening and learning. Try to see and understand from his/her perspective.
You will have a better relationship with your supervisor or manager if you approach him/her with respect. This does not mean you can’t ask questions related to ideas and decisions. It means that you need to approach these types of discussions with curiosity and respect.
Sometimes we find ourselves in a situation in which we don’t see eye to eye with our supervisor, but these are the working relationships that can often teach us the most about ourselves. Take time to do some self-evaluation and determine what you can do to improve the communication. In my own experience, being inquisitive and choosing your battles wisely, can make all the difference in building strong working relationships.
Melissa Ketler (BA, MAL) is an Organizational Leadership Consulting at Fox & Owl Consulting, who published a Master's thesis on organizational continuity and succession planning, and has over 20 years of organizational team leadership experience. For more information on Team Building, Leadership, and Culture, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how Fox & Owl Consulting can strengthen your organization.