How to Manage Up
Everyone has a boss. Even a CEO needs to manage their board or important customers. Knowing how to manage leaders in your organization or your client’s is a pretty important skill and one I did not come by naturally. I’ve been luckily enough to have people knock sense into me.
Know how your boss works
Blind spots are things that a boss doesn’t look for that could hurt them. When your boss is new to the company they will have a lot of them, they won’t know how to see and navigate the little things and they will need your help. I made a decision about a team assignment and one of my managers came to me and pointed out all the things I didn’t know that made it a bad decision. I don’t make those decisions anymore and I have him to thank for calling me out.
Triggers are things that tick someone off. It could being late to standup, running meandering meetings or certain subjects that make them cranky. This is not to say you should avoid a difficult subject to be a responsible leader you have to have hard conversations. You do need to know what you’re getting yourself into and have a plan to manage or circumvent their triggers.
Bosses also have goals that are both personal and professional in nature. You need to know what they are being measured against by their bosses and what things are causing them personal pain. If you can show how what you want to do serves both you have much better chances of getting a yes.
Keep them in the loop
This is the one I’m traditionally worst at. I run pretty fast at things as don’t always keep everyone informed who should be. I’ve gotten in very deserved trouble when my boss was asked about something I was working on by a higher up and they didn’t know the answer.
You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing detailed reports. Just shoot off a quick message saying what’s happening so they have an answer if someone wants to know what you’re working on.
It’s not just things happening with you that you should communicate. If someone is disengaged, two people aren’t getting along or another team is having trouble they need to know. I’m not talking about gossip but information that will help them that may not get to them because of their seniority. I rely on others to keep me informed about what’s happening with my team so I can fix issues quickly and I always protect my source.
When trouble is brewing it’s even more important to keep your boss up to date. If something blows up and I need to step in it’s going to be hard for me help when I don’t know what’s going on. What I do is let my boss know what the issue is, what I’m doing to address it and if I need him to do something. It lets him know what to look out for and if I need him he can jump in quickly. When someone on my team tells me, I monitor the situation and may whisper in a few ears so they get some support.
My managers keep me in line. They have no trouble setting me straight. In public they give a gentle nudge and behind close doors it’s a lot less gentle. It’s also helpful when they give me some background on the situation so I can catch up, then either ask me for something or give me advice.
I like to make sure that the stakeholder feels heard by saying something like “I know you are concerned about this account and you are worried we’re not moving fast enough” then I explain what we want to do that’s different and why I think it’s a better choice. By showing you understand them, the serious of the situation and that you are taking needed steps helps you direct a boss that’s swooping in towards a good direction.
Image: A view from the train when we pulled into Philadelphia on the way to Union Station