Managing Up

There are many seminars, books, and articles about how to be an effective leader. But what is often missing from these resources is how to strategically shape and manage relationships with superiors. As a result, many people harbor feelings of stress, overwhelm, frustration, or resentment toward their boss, but keep them hidden for fear of reprisal. Over time, their motivation and performance diminish, putting their job at risk. Below are some practical strategies for building a mutually productive and respectful relationship with your boss, managing expectations and workloads, and positioning yourself as an exceptional leader within your organization.

Understand your boss's work style and preferences. Is your boss formal or informal? Does he like to be briefed in writing before meetings or prefer to brainstorm issues with you? Is your supervisor a hands-on manager who likes to be consulted about issues as they arise, or will regular and informal updates make your boss think you aren't taking the lead in performing your managerial role? While you might think your manager would be pleased that you keep her in the loop, his work style may value a manager who acts more autonomously. Pay attention to the differences in your work style and your boss's style. Where possible, make adjustments to be consistent in style, eliminating unnecessary annoyances that can build into real miscommunications.

Know what matters to your boss. If your boss is a numbers person, quantify your results. And know which numbers matter most to her. If your boss is a customer-is-first kind of person, frame all your results in terms of benefits to customers.

Communicate like your boss. If your boss likes daily e-mails, send them. If your boss wants a once-a-week summary, then do that. Convey information to your boss in the way she likes, so she’s more likely to retain it. Be aware of detail preferences. Some people like a lot and some people like less. A good way to figure out what your boss wants is to watch how she communicates with you. She’s probably doing it the way she likes best.

Plan and organize your meetings to optimize your time together. Keep a running list of follow up and action items to discuss with your boss.

Learn to say no. Say yes to the things that matter most to your boss. So when he asks you to do something that you don’t have time to do, ask your boss about his priorities. Let him know that you want to make sure you finish what is most important, and this will probably mean saying no to the lesser projects.

Toot your own horn. Each time you do something that impacts the company, let your boss know. Leave a voicemail announcing a project has been completed. Send a congratulation e-mail to your team and copy your boss, which not only draws attention to your project success, but also to your leadership skills. Send a monthly overview of your completions and accomplishments, retaining an electronic file to use for performance review time.

Build a relationship with your boss. If all things are equal, your boss will cater to the person she likes the best. So go out to lunch and talk about what interests her. Connect with her by asking her for advice on something about work. If you are very different than your boss, work hard to find common ground in your conversations.

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 not only your foresight, but also your ability to take initiative.

Be curious. Remember to make time to listen and ask good questions. You will make yourself more interesting to be around, and you will elicit fresh ideas from everyone around you. Your boss will feel like having you on the team improves everyone’s work, even his own, and that, after all, is your primary job in managing up.

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© 2010 Lauren Mackler

Lauren Mackler is a coach, keynote speaker, and training facilitator. She’s the author of the international bestseller, Solemate, and co-author of Speaking of Success with Jack Canfield and Stephen Covey. For info about her coaching services or training programs, contact her through her web site at