How to manage upwards?

The most important part of being a great boss is focusing on the people who work for you. Perhaps the second most important element is learning to effectively manage upward. Doing this well can be a great help to the people that work for you.

Even the CEO works for the Chair of the Board, and the Chair for the shareholders, big and small. We all work for somebody, or almost all of us do. When you talk to entrepreneurs they speak about the incredible power of customers, their banker and suppliers. For our own careers, but even more for those we manage, the ability to manage upward well can be a considerable help to them reaching their annual objectives and advancing their careers.

Let’s get this straight. This is about being a great boss, not about kissing upward. So here are a couple techniques that you could try out.

1. Understand how your boss likes to be communicated with.

Are they a reader or a listener? Do they like emails or Skype calls, talking by phone or in person? Meetings set up in the calendar or brief ones in the hall as you past each other by chance? Do they prefer early meetings, lunch meetings or to have a coffee in a café? All are fine, it is a matter of their preference.

If your boss is more introverted they are more likely to be readers, like to get material ahead of time, and like meetings that are set up ahead of time. This is because they much prefer to take time to do their research, analyze information and think it through rather than give you off the cuff comments. A common problem is that we tend prefer to communication a certain way.

Extroverts tend like to talk things thru, often off the cuff, in person and often as we run into each other in the hall. This works for us extroverts, but it is not about how you like to communicate as much how your boss like to be communicated with. Like the Five Languages of Appreciation we should focus not on the language we like to hear and therefore use but what the recipient appreciates. Use your strengths, absolutely, but learn to be flexible and lean into their preferred style.

2. Understand what motivates them, or in other words, what is their agenda?

You have to know what your boss’ top five priorities are for this year. If you can help your boss achieve one of her top five priorities she will very much like you and consider you a star employee. What are they focused on this year? Why are these things important to them is an important follow up question, so that you can dig deeper, which can help you be more creative in coming up with ways forward. Don’t wait for them to tell you, take them for a coffee and ask them. This will in turn help you guide your people on how to better accomplish their goals and stand out.

And I would suggest you take one step further, understand what your boss’ boss agenda is, helping them reach their key goals is a outstanding way to get their attention in a very positive way. Solutions, not problems. This a third useful approach with your manager. Never go to your boss without some ideas on how solve the problem at hand. Don’t forget to enlist the advice of your own people to come up with solutions before you go to your manager.

3. Next, negotiate the support you need to perform successfully

One more key to your success is to know and agree upon your leaders’ expectations of you. It seems obvious, but it’s surprising how often business gets in the way of having a candid conversation about what’s required of you in your role.

So, take the lead and ask to meet and go over expectations. But don’t just follow the routine of discussing goals, strengths, and areas for development—instead have a dialogue about the best way to manage you and your team.

4. Consistently demonstrate your ability to achieve results with minimal direction

This is not about hiding in a corner and struggling alone until you get the perfect answer, and never bothering your boss until you are done. I used to think it was. On the contrary, it’s about demonstrating that you own the issue you were delegated. This includes updating your boss on key milestones before he asks, getting your boss’s feedback on work products early, and asking for help early — if you need it.

What all this has in common is initiating the communication at the right time. Nothing stresses a manager more than uncertainty. By doing this, you become a certainty, and he can rely on you to involve him at the right time if needed. Now, what boss wouldn’t want that in a team member?

5. Thank your boss for helping you.

This is not about ass-kissing. It’s gotta be genuine. If your boss goes out of his way to recommend you for a cool project or really helped you develop a new skill, give him a genuine thank you. You don’t need to get a gift or anything. Just a few sentences (best in person instead of email) to say you appreciated it. A heart felt thanks can go a long way in building a good relationship with anyone, especially your boss.

At the end of the day, these tactics all have one thing in common: It’s about you proactively showing your boss that you can manage yourself, keep him informed, and know how to use his help. These managing upwards tactics are successful because they are all geared towards helping you be a top performing team member who is easy to manage.

You will be able to build a great reputation and relationship with your boss as you show him that he can rely on you to deliver and communicate at the right time. This greatly alleviates his stress, keeps him from having to micromanage you, and helps him succeed. In turn, he will naturally have more time and incentive to help you succeed.

Check out my related post: How to learn to be a good boss from a bad boss?

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