Managing down is all about being a good boss to your team. Managing up is all about being a good report to your boss. Both of these forms of influence matter for your success at work and career development, but managing up is less talked about.
What is managing up?
“Managing up is the process of taking things off your boss’s to-do list and helping them be more productive. It can be challenging to know what your manager wants and needs, but if you can establish a two-way dialogue and read the cues they give you, managing up will come naturally,” explains Jennifer Patterson owner and HR consultant at Patterson Consulting Group.
Sounds intimidating? Don’t focus on figuring out the details of managing up before understanding that it’s about one simple principle – making your boss’ life easier. “I wish professionals knew that managing up isn’t difficult if you think about it as simply taking care of your boss and making their life easier,” adds Patterson.
Key principles of managing up
According to her, this boils down to two important principles. First: Understanding what your boss wants to achieve. Second, understanding how your boss operates.
Understanding your boss can be a challenge, especially if you are new to an organization or your manager is reluctant to share their goals and objectives. But you’ll need to take the time to do so. “It’s essential that you take the time to establish a two-way dialogue so that you can get a clear sense of what they’re hoping to achieve. Once you understand their goals, you can start brainstorming ways to add value and make their job easier,” says Patterson. And you can’t add more value without gaining insights about what is valuable first.
Empathy is also key. “A significant aspect of managing up is being able to empathize with your manager and anticipate their needs. This can be difficult if you don’t see eye-to-eye with your manager on everything, but it’s important to remember that they’re just trying to do their job to the best of their ability,” according to Patterson. “If you can be reliable and show that you’re genuinely committed to helping them achieve their goals, then you’ll be in a great position to succeed.”
How to manage up at work
Now that you’ve wrapped your head around what matters the most when it comes to managing up, it’s time to put the concept into practice. Patterson shared some dos and don’ts below – and they’re all about focusing on support rather than control.
Do understand what your manager wants
Is your manager feeling the pressure of meeting big quarterly revenue goals? Or maybe they want to get promoted themselves. Figure out what currently matters the most to them and align your efforts with ways to help them get there.
Do establish a two-way dialogue
Use one-on-one meetings to ask questions and get feedback that allows you to get to know your boss’ needs.
Do be dependable and reliable
Follow through on what you say you are going to do. Deliver high-quality work and have a positive attitude while you do so.
Don’t try to micromanage
Don’t be overbearing: You don’t need to get involved in every detail of every project or task your boss talks about. You wouldn’t want to work for a micromanaging boss, and they most likely feel the same way about their employees.
Don’t be afraid to voice your opinion
Your boss is used to people telling them what they want to hear. Offer constructive feedback and voice your unique perspective – they’ll appreciate it.
Don’t forget to show appreciation for what they do
Leaders tend to be focused on recognizing their team, and often get very little recognition themselves. Showing appreciation for your boss’ efforts is also a form of support.
And if you’re wondering how you can bring this into your day-to-day work in concrete ways, it can often look like taking action to get things off your boss’ plate.
For example, if your manager is always asking for status updates on projects, you can be proactive and send them regular updates so they don’t have to chase you for information. Or if your manager is struggling with an overflowing inbox, you could offer to help them sort through the influx of emails and flag anything that requires their immediate attention.
Are you a PowerPoint whiz? Support your boss by helping put together their next presentation.