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Can your managers manage … managing upward?

Ever cast your eye up the management chain, looked at those above and thought they may be just a tiny bit less than perfect sometimes? Of course you have, we all have. And this isn’t a criticism of more senior managers – they’re human, just like everyone else and humans make mistakes, have to compromise, prioritise… and sometimes you’re not the priority.

Managing 360

All of which is to say, the art of management includes managing upward. Your job description may say you’re in charge of a team of six (or two, or a hundred, etc) and your manager assesses your performance based on how you apply those hard-earned management skills to that team. However, if you really want to be a team player and improve the quality of your working life, you need to apply those same skills to those above you on the organisational chart. Here are a few tips on how best to manage your boss…

7 top tips on managing upwards

  • Be up front about how you like to workWorking well with somebody else depends on mutual understanding and playing to each other’s strengths. A good boss will ask you (early on, hopefully) how you like to work, communicate and be managed. Be open and honest and set the foundations for a good working relationship. If they don’t ask you this question, you can always ask them and start the conversation yourself.
  • Learn how they like to workAnd on the other side of the coin, respect how they like to work. Find out where there are differences or clashes in your styles, acknowledge them and talk about them. Where are the compromise points? Where can you agree?
  • Be an expertYou’ve been hired for your skills and expertise so use them. Don’t be a show-off but do demonstrate that you’re good at your job.
  • Don’t hide problemsBad news never gets better for being delayed. If you or your team have a difficulty that your manager needs to be aware of, tell them asap. Do it factually, without drama, and ideally go prepared with a potential solution or two.
  • No complaints without recommendationsAsk yourself what you prefer as a manager: someone who brings you problems or someone who brings you solutions? Eventually, the first is a pain, the second is a supportive colleague. How do you want your manager to see you?
  • Be willing to learnPart of your manager’s job is to help you improve – skills, knowledge and experience, so be prepared to listen and learn if they think you could do better. After all, you’re having the same conversations with your team, right?
  • Put yourself in their positionAfter all, you might even want their position one day. Whatever you think of your manager’s skillset or experience, they occupy a different position in the organisation and therefore, at the very least, have a different perspective as well as different priorities. By understanding where your manager is coming from, you deepen your understanding of the business and that’s always a good thing.

Finally, just in case you’re thinking that this is about compensating for your manager’s flaws and why should I do that? look at it this way: a little judicious effort in an upwards direction can make your life at work immeasurably better – you want to know what’s in this for you? How about a boss that trusts you and leaves you to get on with your job?

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