What if you were skilful at helping your bosses manage their agendas and expectations? How might that help your career? How good are you at managing up?
How well do you “manage your boss”? Are you passive towards this concept or do you have pro-active strategies that help you “manage up”? If you are the boss, do you make allowances for your subordinates to help “manage you up”?
Whether we are an employee, a contractor or a consultant we all end up working in some way or another for “a boss”, right? And they can have a pretty powerful influence over us to, can’t they? This article is about managing that relationship with the boss. Managing up.
Our ultimate the “boss” is always the client, yes? There are reams of material on how to “manage the client”. So why not apply those same dynamics to “manage the boss”? To manage up?
So what does that mean?
At its most basic it means for me that we need to know, understand and satisfy the boss’ expectations of us in terms of the responsibilities delegated to us in our role. It’s about the relationship between us within that reporting relationship. We can be passive and reactive towards that or we can pro-actively develop and influence that relationship to leverage and to drive the personal and professional outcomes we seek in and from our career. I also happen to believe that this can be expected from a committed employee to further the success of everyone in that process – the employee, the boss, the department, the organisation and the client.
In my blog Are you a “fetch” person? I spoke about you “fetching” what it is that you need or want from a relationship, and in that context there is hardly a more important relationship that has more influence on our careers than that with our boss, right? I’m sure it won’t surprise you that I believe it is our responsibility to “fetch” the outcomes that matter in this relationship with our boss rather than to allowing it to just happen.
It’s about knowing and understanding objectives and driving behaviours and visibility and connections that assist in (over) achieving results and outcomes that are good for the boss, for the organisation and for us.
At its most powerful, this relationship can be so far developed that it can be “leading the boss from behind” to influence the outcomes that we believe are important.
In my blog Surprise! we discussed that nobody likes to be surprised or have problems hit them “out of the blue”. This is vital in the “managing up” situation to protect your boss from surprises. Be sure to get him or her the early warning of impending problems or issues, using other media if you can’t get to the boss personally. I have used SMS either just before or even right into a meeting the boss is at in order to “warn them” of an impending issue. (My people knew I wouldn’t take a voicemail in a meeting, but that I would look at SMS, even with the phone on “silent”.)
Adopt a mentoring approach and ask for advice, if your relationship has been developed to enable that. It won’t just happen. We need to “fetch” that relationship if we want to help make it work in our favour. It’s not just a case of “the boss likes me or dislikes me” and leaving it at that. Give the boss some good reasons to “like you”. This starts with good consistent performance, but there are a range of useful “soft skills” that my clients learn to adopt and apply into that influencing process.
If there are behaviours you don’t like, be willing to “push back”. Of course this should never be done in public and preferably one on one, and the focus should be on the behaviour, not the boss’ person. Picking the right time and opportunity helps, but don’t shy away from addressing something that has started to bug you and you feel is getting in the way; particularly if we are talking about values. Think about it – wouldn’t you appreciate and respect one of your subordinates taking the trouble to point that out to you, if that were the case?
Of course in every career there will need to be “battles”. Remember to be clear on “the war” and the end goal you have in mind for your career. Then it becomes clearer to know which battles to pick. This process can start by your knowing when to “push back”.
Remember always that the boss is also a “people” and that people need and love feedback and recognition. David Maister talks about “non financial currencies” in one of his blogs, which I liked. This is where we use approaches and behaviours like expressing appreciation, gratitude, recognition, fast-response etc to help strengthen the relationship.
Also, never underestimate the importance of building a good relationship with the boss’ EA. They aren’t called “gatekeepers” for nothing. Knowing the boss’ mood on your way into a meeting can be very useful, and guess where you will find that out from? The same applies to when you have a “crisis” that needs urgent input from the boss. But they won’t want to help you without your having invested in that relationship.
In my blog Managing Expectations we spoke about making it our business to know what the expectations of our stakeholders are. The boss is one pretty important stakeholder, so if you don’t know and understand their expectations (particularly of you) how can you possibly build a strong relationship with them. It is a critical part of “managing up”.
This becomes even more important in the event of restructuring, which has become an inevitable part of corporate life today, whether triggered by M&A activity or just “rightsizing” etc. With the right “fetch” attitude and the right relationship with the boss, we can negotiate to enhance our position in this process. However, we can also end up with “more on our plate” than we bargained for from such excercises, right? Again our relationship should enable us to “push back” and stand our ground if that is unreasonable.
I urge my clients to make it their business to know the boss’ agenda(s), and to equally make it their business to help the boss fulfil or influence those agendas. This often goes into the realm of politics, which is an inevitable part of the corporate business playing field. Perhaps that’s the subject of a blog at some stage. Your “managed up” relationship will have let you be aware of and support those agendas. In last week’s article on Edification I spoke about how “making the boss look good” can assist that process.
However, this should not (often) be allowed to occur at the expense of your own agenda. In Who is driving your bus? we spoke about being in control of your career. This includes having your own “career agenda” and being in control of what you wish to achieve for yourself. In developing the relationship with their boss, my clients learn to have their boss understand their more important (personal) agendas so that they can support them. This is also an important part of “managing up”.
Your relationship with your boss will enable you to share some of those agenda’s with them, perhaps in a more mentoring type discussion, so that they can help you achieve that agenda.
Think about your relationship with your current boss. How are you doing across the different topics addressed above? Think about your past roles and your relationships with those bosses. What has your approach been in the past? Was it active enough or perhaps too passive? How well do you support them in achieving their objectives? How well does your relationship with your boss enable them to know and support you in your agendas? How do you think your subordinates and direct reports would respond to those questions?
Why not take stock and make this part of your own personal career management strategy going forward? I know that if you had a personal coach you would. What if you could?