Sunday, August 5, 2018

"Manage Up"? #confusing

We have all had bosses, right? As I reflect on the jobs I have had since I was 15, I realized that my first three supervisors were completely checked out on what I did. I do not recall ever receiving feedback for my work, except when I bungled something.

Then my next three supervisors were what I would characterize as poor leaders:

  1. Allowed his personal life to impact his mood day-to-day;
  2. Played favorites, and I was definitely not one of them;
  3. Was never satisfied, and had a completely unrealistic work ethic by which he oppressively measured everyone else.
Somewhere in the midst of those experiences I was taught about managing up, and certainly tried to apply the concept to the best of my abilities.

Recently I had a #friendoftheblog ask me if I was ever going to follow up on a post titled 35 Things to Do for Your Career by 35 from April 27, 2018, where I mentioned that I could write a whole separate blog post on managing up (see tip #20). Once I got over the embarrassment of realizing I'd forgotten to do this, I got to work!

For the sake of adequate preparation, I thought I'd find a few pertinent articles to throw in for further reading. OH DEAR. I discovered that there are several interpretations of what it means to manage up!! Here is a sampling of what I found:

I started wondering if I should wade into such treacherous waters... but then I found an article that summed up how I understand managing up: The process of teaching your boss how to manage you; effectively managing your relationship with your boss.

I would drill it down to something even more basic: DON'T WAIT TO BE ASKED. What do I mean by that?

The past is not the present. There are many times when a supervisor has been in the position that you are currently in. And back in the day, they had a certain way of doing things. So it would be natural that they would assume that you would accomplish those tasks in exactly the same measurable ways that they did it. However, technology may have changed, or simply your style and skills may be different, but you are able to get the job done effectively nevertheless. Rather than wait to be asked as to results or progress, I suggest that you regularly manage up and let the supervisor know how you are accomplishing a task or assignment so that the supervisor will come to see that there are new and different ways to get things done. It is crucial that you figure out the best way to communicate this information: email? quick pop-in to your supervisor's office? standing meeting? Slack channel? And make sure you are giving measurable results, not "things are going great!"

Be proactive! Years ago I read a book that had a huge impact on my work life titled 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It's an oldie but a goodie. The overarching theme of that book is to learn how to be proactive, not reactive. Yet over several decades I consistently find that most workplaces still function in a very panicked, reactive manner. And thus managers feel overloaded or and want to just offload all the things that they can't get done, usually last minute (I fondly refer to this as "hot potato delegation"). Rather than wait to be asked to do something, initiate and manage up proactively with your ideas for projects and assignments that you feel best suited for and have interest in learning. Naturally, it can't hurt to anticipate which projects will be needed and if you offer to do them, that's a win for you.

Manage up with clients too. Perhaps it goes without saying, but it is crucial to remember that we not only work for our bosses, we work for our clients as well. And we need to manage up with them all the more. I have found over the years, especially working in the nonprofit world (primarily churches and academic institutions), that many people have very clear expectations of the services that we should be providing. But these expectations were often formed from their experiences 25 years ago and things have greatly changed since they experienced those things! So rather than wait to be asked,  I see it as my job and goal to communicate with them on a consistent basis as to what we can provide given the dynamics of the context in which we are serving.

Is this helpful? Feel free to add to the conversation. Email me at with your comments ~ if I get a few, I'll post more on this. Thanks for reading.

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