Managing up means focusing on the relationship with your boss to obtain the best results for yourself, for her and for your organization, according to Joanne Murray, Managing Up, An Overlooked Factor in Career Success (2008). Michael Watkins, in Harvard Business School article: How to Succeed With Your New Boss (2002), says "Managing up is as important as managing down."
Since women are natural nurturers, they generally have a harder time saying no, which tends to make them respond to the needs of everyone relatively equally rather than ranking the boss' needs first, according to Jan McDaniel, Guarding Your Time: How to Say No (2008). Thus managing up feels risky to many women.
For a faster, smoother route to the top, focusing on your relationship with your boss makes sense for several reasons. Your boss has a perspective of the bigger picture. Meeting her needs will result in better results for the business. It is your boss who can give you more interesting work, more responsibility and better work conditions upon seeing the evidence of your commitment. Sometimes when it feels like you are letting someone down by sticking to your boss' priorities, however, the broader view is that you are doing the greater good for the business, as you cannot please everyone.
The Basics on Managing Up:
- Make sure you know what is important to your boss, i.e, what her priorities are. You may look or feel like you're giving a bad impression by asking how she ranks her priorities, but being clear on that is critical to meeting her needs. And they may change. She will ultimately be glad that you kept to her objectives.
- Communicate to her the way she receives information best. If she reads best, write it. If she hears best, speak it. If she likes numbers best, quantify your message. Make it a point to know which numbers matter most to her.
- Make your boss aware of projects and tasks of interest to her that are doing well. Send a congratulation email to your team, copying your boss, which not only draws attention to the success of your project but also to your leadership skills.
- Seek new responsibilities. Find important holes in your department before your boss notices them. Take responsibility for filling those holes, and your boss will appreciate your foresight. She will also recognize your ability to do more than your job, as long as you keep doing a performing well in your original responsibilities.
- Learn. Read. Listen. Observe. Participate. Ask thoughtful questions. This is refreshing to the team and makes you more interesting to work with. Your boss will enjoy having you on the team and feel like it improves everyone’s work, including hers.
The risk of managing up is the discomfort of setting unfamiliar and sometimes uncomfortable boundaries It may mean sometimes saying no to customers, associates and even to your boss when you have to remind or share what is already on your plate. This way you stay in line with your boss's priorities and spend your time, her time and the company's time most productively.
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Discussion and thought provoking questions: 1. Can you think of a time when managing up would have worked better than what you did? 2. Can you think of how someone managed up for you and how you felt about them? 3. Can you think of someone you know who manages up, and how does it look like it works for them?
has edited and written for consumer Web sites and publications reaching nearly 50 million people. Her credits include writing and editing online and print articles, sales and training materials, marketing collateral, and advertising and PR for conusmer companies including BeautiControl, a Tupperware subsidiary's publications to women ages 20s through 50s, the WHO Foundation, Women Helping Others, MCG Magazine, Los Angeles and Seasonal Living Guide for Sam’s Club, a retailing subsidiary of Wal-Mart. Her career also includes working and living in Canada and Japan. Jean is well regarded for her market-research based approach to managing story development enabling consistently original, relevant and timely content.