It’s normal to wish you had more power while at work. Whether you have a team working under you or not, almost everyone still has a boss (or multiple bosses) that they have to report to and take direction from.
But this relationship doesn’t have to be one-sided. By carefully following varying “managing up” practices and taking certain matters into your own hands, you can help keep your boss or managing team organized and focused on what’s really important. Furthermore, you can achieve a greater sense of purpose at your job and even increase promotion opportunities.
What is ‘Managing Up’?
While the practice of “managing up” has been around for centuries, it has only been put into words in more recent years. Essentially, this practice consists of the employee taking various steps to help their boss be a better manager, In particular, employees who are struggling with a boss who is disorganized, low energy, and just generally out of touch are encouraged to manage up. Likewise, employees struggling with a brand-new boss or one who is too “hands off” (or too “hands on”) may also benefit from managing up.
A special series published by The Harvard Business Review in 2015 shed a lot of light on the subject, even going so far as to breaking it down into five specific practices. Read through each practice carefully and consider how you might be able to work it into your own situation:
Obviously you should be communicating with your boss regularly, but how often are you conveying your needs as a team member? Nobody is a mind reader. If your boss has never worked in your specific position, they may not know what you need to do your job well. It is also important to ask for regular feedback so you show that you care about your performance.
This includes anticipating your boss’ reactions, needs and next moves. For example, you can actually help them out by offering to assist with a presentation they frequently fall short on, just as you can offer to assist with small tasks (like putting together schedules, booking meeting rooms, ordering office supplies, etc.) Likewise, if you anticipate your boss will react negatively to something that your team needs, take time beforehand to figure out how to best present it to them.
Your boss has their own work style, and it is important to be understanding of that. If they prefer being talked to in person, don’t send them a message if you’re able to walk over to them. It’s also important to take time to understand their own responsibilities on a daily basis. It’s easy to write them off as uncaring, but they could very well be stressed with other projects that don’t involve you.
Know How to Discuss Issues
Don’t keep problems to yourself for fear of how your boss will react. Take your boss’ personality into account and approach them carefully when they have some time to be receptive. Always be polite, and be willing to elaborate on the issue in a calm manner.
Learn to Be a Helpful Source
When deciding to manage up, you must also decide to be consistent and reliable. It’s important to establish a sense of trust with your boss so that they know they can turn to you in the future.
Now, it is important to go about managing up practices carefully and learn to do them naturally. Coming across too strongly or forced can risk the employer feeling disrespected or undermined, and things can quickly backfire. Likewise, don’t take on more than you can handle, or you will risk getting burned out. It’s also important to remember that any good boss will appreciate your efforts and will recognize you as someone who is aware and an important member of the team.