July 11, 2017
The Do's and Don'ts of Managing Up

Your career is a bit like your vacation photos. While you may have had an amazing time backpacking through Croatia or soaking in the sun on a remote beach, no one else is going to care about your trip as much as you do.

Similarly, no one is going to care as much about your career as you do. How quickly you get ahead, and whether or not you become a leader in your organization, is up to you.

It’s up to you to get the help you need to achieve your career goals.

Managing Up: What it IS and What it ISN’T

Let’s begin by defining what managing up ISN’T: It isn’t about being a brown-noser or kissing up to the boss.  It isn’t pointing out problems and expecting someone else to solve it.  It also isn’t about getting the upper hand on your manager or getting on their good side so you can avoid work completely. It isn’t any of those things.

Managing up is about career development. It means recognizing the type of support you might need - for example, maybe you need a bit more direction or guidance with a specific task or project – then being proactive and communicating effectively to get said support.

Managing up is also about recognizing that leaders are human and should be viewed as someone who has a specific leading style - and recognizing when that style doesn’t work for you or when something can work better and sharing that insight. Maybe their leaders never gave them direction, or maybe they are handing over the reins on a project they feel very passionate about. Maybe they’re managing how THEY like to be managed.

At the end of the day, managing up is about realigning and reconfirming expectations and framing things for your leader in a way that they feel more comfortable giving you feedback and guidance.

Mike Troiano, G20 Partner and former CMO at Actifio, has worked with a multitude of people in his career and has identified two types when it comes to managing up.  

There are 2 kinds of people. The first kind walks into my office with a giant pile of shit, puts it on my desk, and asks me what to do with it.

The second kind comes to my office, tells me about this giant pile of shit, shares the outlines of their plan to deal with it, and asks me what I think. We agree on something, then they check in once in awhile to keep me posted on their progress until the giant pile of shit is a dried up Chihuahua turd.

There are way more of the first kind of people, but it’s much better to be the second kind.”

Why Manage Up?

All managers are different. They have different skillsets, different expectations and different goals. Those who are curious about what is most important to their leader, can adapt and learn to communicate effectively will serve their managers, company and help create more growth and advancement opportunities.

Ultimately, managing up allows employees to practice their leadership skills, feel happier and more fulfilled by doing their job in a way that helps their boss do their's.


Let’s take a look at some of the things you should do when managing up:

Understand Your Leader’s Goals

The very first thing you absolutely must do is understand your supervisor’s goals and objectives. He or she may not initially offer up their goals, so set a time to meet so you can get to know them and their desired outcomes a bit better.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions that will help you, help them. What are they trying to accomplish? What are their past career experiences and how do they influence current choices? What is his or her communication style? Do they prefer you update them in person or via email? What role do you ultimately play in their plans? And don’t forget to simply ask HOW you can best help.

Once you know the answers to these questions you’ll be able to anticipate your manager’s needs and jump in.

Build Trust

You ultimately want your leader to be open to your ideas and feedback, but to do so they must first trust you. Trust is vital in any relationship and the relationship you have with your leader is no different.

So how do you get your manager to trust you?

By being committed to the work and being authentic.  Trust is when you share your intent - why are you there - why do you care; when both of you believe in your capability to do the work (this doesn’t mean that you never have questions - it means when questions come up that you feel comfortable asking for help) and when you have proven results.  

If you are showing up late to meetings, are missing deadlines and don’t show up (either physically or mentally) then you can’t expect to build trust.  Share a bit more about who you are and make it obvious you are all-in when it comes to your role in the organization. When you are really committed, you can let go of your ego and jump into the work that needs to be done.

Set Feedback Guidelines

Within the business environment, it’s important that team members give and receive feedback. A culture of open communication improves performance and increases engagement while advancing personal development.

Have a discussion with your manager about feedback. Share how you like to be given direction, how you best receive feedback. Then ask how your manager likes receiving feedback. Ask how open are they to receiving feedback from direct reports. To have consistent feedback, there has to first be expectation setting.


Let Your Manager be Caught Off Guard

Know what really annoys managers? Being caught off guard with bad news and knowing nothing about the situation. If you know something nasty is coming down the pike (think bad social media buzz or an unhappy business partner), give your manager a head’s up and provide them with as many details as you can. This way they’ll be prepared when the call comes.

Make Everything About You

Do not make everything about you. And don’t try and make yourself look good. For example, don’t go over your own bosses’ head to tell their boss your super great idea. Your integrity and intent will be called into question.

Be a Yes Man

Don't be a mini-me. No one wants a yes man or someone who is contrary for the sake of being contrary. Be authentic. Think about the business and add insights and opinions when you are asked or when you are inspired and have something to say. Authenticity is key.

Managing up gives you the best chance of making a positive impact in your organization and advancing your career. If you follow these do’s and don’ts you will be able to help your manager help you succeed.

Gabriela McManus is Executive Director at Follow her on Twitter: @GabMcM