Your Success Super Power: Managing Up
In a perfect world, your boss would know exactly what you need to be your best workplace self and adapt to meet your needs.
Few (if any) of us live in a perfect world. Most of us live in a world as imperfect people balancing all kinds of personal and professional goals, dreams and obstacles to manage with imperfect managers that have their own personal and professional complexities.
And therein lies the power of Managing Up.
At its core, managing up is finding ways to bring mutual beneficial outcomes to both you and your boss. It does not mean that you have to accommodate and adapt to all of your boss' idiosyncrasies. What it does mean you (1) need to know all you can about your boss and (2) determine what you want to do with that knowledge to benefit both you and your boss.
There are six areas that I suggest every professional needs to determine about his or her boss. They include understanding your boss':
Goals and Needs: What are their professional and personal goals? What do they need to be successful?
Pressures: What are the main pressures on your boss at work and home? Are they a single parent? Are they trying to manage a new boss or a hard-to-manage boss?
Strengths and Skills: Where does your boss excel? What can he or she do better than others?
Weaknesses and Blindspots: Where does your boss struggle? What are their "blind spots" in terms of self-management or the management of others?
Work Styles: How does he/she work best? Are they verbose or concise? Do they prefer formal or informal meetings? Do they prepare or find preparation tedious?
Stress Behaviors: When your boss is under stress, what does he or she do that is unhealthy? Do they yell, retreat, blame, ignore feedback, seek too much feedback, make decisions too quickly or become indecisive?
When gathering information for 1 and 2, think beyond your area of work. Too often we only see our boss from our own lens, within our own context - and this can give us a view that is too narrow. By considering all the areas for which your boss has responsibility, you can ensure you have a more comprehensive - and realistic - view of your leader.
Some of these answers may come to you quickly. Your boss may clearly show his or her stress behaviors all too often or he/she may talk excessively about their goals, pressures, strengths, and sometimes weaknesses.
What do you do if you don't know the answers to these questions? You have a few options. If you have a strong relationship with your boss, take a moment and interview him/her. Be clear that you want to better understand their point of view so that you can work better with them over the long term. If you are hesitant that he/she may not be comfortable (or if you are uncomfortable), then become the observer. Take a few weeks and watch your boss closely and actively listen to what they say - and do not say. See if you can determine where they excel and where they seem to be less comfortable.
Lastly you can also ask others who you trust who have worked with or for your boss. It can be helpful to get another person's point of view as you flesh out your list.
Once you have at least a working knowledge in each of these areas, ask yourself: What behaviors of mine do I want to adapt that ensure that both my boss and I have a strong working relationship that benefits us both?"
Notice that I am not asking you to change everything to adapt to your boss. I am asking you to consider what you are willing to adapt to gain mutual benefit - with the overall goal of you being able to get more of what want.
Examine each of the six areas. Often the easiest behaviors to change are around your boss' work styles and communication preferences. If you know they prefer to be more formal and run meetings from agendas, then try preparing agendas for your one-on-ones. If you are the more formal one and your boss hates formality, consider drafting an agenda for your meeting that you never give to your boss. This can ensure you cover what you need to cover (which is the purpose of an agenda), and allows you boss to feel the freedom of an agenda-less meeting.
Here is a real-world example: One of my clients was verbose and loved context. She felt it was important for people to understand the whole story before making decisions. She often wrote lengthy emails that covered all the possible angles of an issue. Her voicemails were comprehensive and could total more than 2 - 3 minutes each. She was a great storyteller, but as she learned, not everyone loves stories.
Her boss was a "bullet point" type of communicator. She hated diving into the details unless absolutely necessary. My client was able to recogonize this hated of detail when her boss was under stress (the boss got really, really cranky under stress and often cut people off mid sentence, asking them to get to the point).
She started to condense her emails into bullet points at the top of the email, with more context below - clearly labeled as "additional background." In emails and memos, she bolded the decision that needed to be made. And, she quit leaving long voicemails, opting for emails and short texts for urgent matters.
It took just weeks for the results to appear: Her boss pulled her aside and said that she really loved her new approach. Instead of taking up to a week to receive a response, her boss started to responding to emails in 1 - 2 days. Productivity improved. In her annual review, her boss cited her new approach and gave her higher rankings for communication and driving results.
Managing up is all about finding ways to manage your boss by meeting him or her where they are. Often the changes you made are small - using the phone instead email, using email instead of the phone, using Slack to check in vs texting - but there results can be very, very powerful!
Nicole Provonchee is an executive coach and strategist that works with women leaders and teams across the nation. After 20 years climbing the corporate ladder, she started Bright Blue Consulting, where she can combine her skills as a coach with her practical experiences as a leader and executive.