You Don’t Have to be at the Top to be a Leader: How to Manage Up

by / ⠀Startup Advice / July 30, 2012

Does it seem that some co-workers have a magic formula on how to get ahead in the workplace? They get along well with everyone, are well respected by their colleagues and superiors, and they seem to obtain promotions ahead of their equally hard-working peers. While they may be great workers, their “secret” might be that they are simply masters of the art of managing up.

What is Managing Up?

Managing up means working strategically with a boss or manager to produce the best possible outcomes. Think of it as building a bridge to a boss who may have a different work style and perspective, for the good of oneself and the company. Managing up can result in win-win-win situations where an organization, its projects and workers all benefit. Failing to effectively manage up can result in wasted time, frustration and unmet expectations. It can also lead to missed opportunities and a stalled career.

How to Manage Up

Managing up doesn’t require manipulation, psychology or becoming the office doormat. Try these simple, sensible and effective strategies for managing bosses:

  • Assess the boss and his or her style. Pay attention. Observe the boss in action, and note how a typical day flows. Does he wear cufflinks and perfectly polished shoes? If so, it may be time to spruce up your wardrobe. Does she have more energy in the morning than in the afternoon? Try to schedule meetings before lunch. Do tardy people drive him crazy? Show up early.
  • Speak their language. Is the boss a stickler for spelling and grammar? Then every communication should be letter-perfect. If he is more casual, then formal communication might sound arrogant. If she is a data nut, provide plenty of accurate statistics to back up ideas and proposals.
  • Find out what they need. Selling a product or service requires knowing what the customer wants and needs. It’s the same for selling oneself on the job. Learn what the boss is trying to accomplish, and align with his or her goals.

Create a Plan

How can one implement the tips above? Just as with any important project, start by planning:

  • Create a communication plan. First determine the boss’s preferences. Some like daily updates, while others prefer less frequent communication. Then set reminders to make sure it stays on track. Also, promote a strong relationship by scheduling face-to-face meetings – but don’t be a nuisance.
  • Seek out ways to make the boss’s job easier. Ask the boss if she needs help with her projects. Volunteer for jobs – especially those no one else wants to do. Before presenting problems, work out several possible solutions. Provide back-up data and enough information that she can easily get onboard.

Executing the Plan

Because bosses need constant care and feeding, managing up is an everyday activity:

  • Start slowly. Don’t overwhelm by inundating the boss with requests, meetings and impromptu conversations. Start off by being friendly and helpful, and look the boss in the eye at every opportunity.
  • Ask for feedback. Don’t wait for an annual evaluation to find out things are heading south. Request feedback and respond appropriately. Take any advice a manager gives. Being open to feedback is a sign of leadership.
  • Avoid the hot buttons. This goes back to assessing a manager and learning his or her style. If sloppy dress and office gossip are pet peeves, it’s best to avoid them. If detail-laden reports make the boss see stars, stick to top-level information.
  • Have the boss’s back. Everyone has weaknesses. Help the boss out by offsetting his or hers. For example, a manager who excels at analysis might not be great at presenting the findings in a polished-looking package. Step up and offer to handle it before the next presentation.
  • Make the boss look good. When the team has a successful outcome, give the boss the credit – whether or not he deserves it. Making the boss look good is beneficial in the long run. And chances are he knows exactly who really deserves the credit.

Keep in mind that bosses are people too, and like to be treated as such. Above all, managing up requires complete honesty and integrity. Becoming the boss’s go-to person is an ideal way to stand out from the pack and become a valued asset – which are absolutely essential these days for job security and career advancement.

BIO – Pete Kontakos is a contributor that discusses education, leadership training and marketing.

About The Author

Matt Wilson

Matt Wilson is Co-Founder of Under30Experiences, a travel company for young people ages 21-35. He is the original Co-founder of Under30CEO (Acquired 2016). Matt is the Host of the Live Different Podcast and has 50+ Five Star iTunes Ratings on Health, Fitness, Business and Travel. He brings a unique, uncensored approach to his interviews and writing. His work is published on Under30CEO.com, Forbes, Inc. Magazine, Huffington Post, Reuters, and many others. Matt hosts yoga and fitness retreats in his free time and buys all his food from an organic farm in the jungle of Costa Rica where he lives. He is a shareholder of the Green Bay Packers.