Ever known a manager who held great respect of his or her team but was not respected by his or her management? Or maybe you’ve had a manager that just couldn’t get things done effectively because he or she just didn’t know how to “work the system”? Or even still, are you are a manager who is continually frustrated because you can’t get your manager to do what you need him or her to do? If any of these sound familiar to you, welcome to the world of ineffective upward management. Upward management is one of those skills that some do very well, many never seem to master, and virtually all learn only through on-the-job lessons-learned. When done well, both the manager and employee work as a team to ensure each other is informed, address problems before they spin out of control, and be more effective at managing. When done poorly, both manager and employee are not only ineffective at getting the job done but are chronically frustrated due to mis-steps and surprises.
The Brown-Noser – This is the employee who treats his boss as some kind of rock star and constantly searches for what his boss wants to hear. Rather than upwardly managing, the brown-noser upwardly affirms whatever it is the boss is thinking. The Rebellious Teenager – This is the employee who consciously conceals information from her boss because she wants to demonstrate that she can get things done without help from her boss. Rather than upwardly managing, the rebellious teenager keeps her manager in the dark by withholding information. The Cowardly Lion – This is the employee who simply is afraid to share information with his boss because he fears his boss’ reactions. Rather than upwardly managing, the cowardly lion avoids sharing information unless completely painted into a corner. The Erupting Volcano – This is the employee who subscribes to the “more is better” school of information management and will tell her manager every gory detail of every single event every single day. Rather than upwardly managing, the erupting volcano spews data like hot lava and forces her manager to pick out the important facts.
So how do you avoid mis-steps in managing upward? 1 – Understand your boss – Think about how your boss likes to communicate; does she prefer written emails or verbal discussion? Does she like structured one-on-one meetings or informal chats? Get a clear understanding of how your boss likes to engage and adapt your style to her style. 2 – Stick to objective facts – When presenting information avoid emotionally-biased assessments. Sure, you may have put your heart and soul into a project but if the project no longer makes business sense to do then it’s your responsibility to put personal feelings aside and do the right business thing. 3 – Don’t dump problems on his or her doorstep that you should be solving yourself – Yes, your manager has greater responsibility than you, probably gets paid more than you, and most likely has more organizational influence than you. That doesn’t mean you get to delegate things you should be solving yourself. Handle the problems that you’re paid to handle and enlist your boss for the stuff that requires his influence in the organization.
7 – Respect your boss’ time – Got a meeting with your boss? Show up on time, come prepared to discuss whatever topics need discussing, and end the meeting on time. Your boss is busy and her time should be utilized as effectively as possible. Don’t let your boss see your meetings with her as a waste of time. 8 – Diligently follow through on commitments – So your boss asks you to complete an assignment by tomorrow. You agree to meet the commitment. The deadline passes and you haven’t met the commitment and all you can offer up is some lame excuse. Sheesh. Even if you think an assignment given to you is the dumbest assignment on earth, if you’ve made a commitment to do it then meet the commitment. Not following through shows a lack of respect for your boss and breeds distrust. 9 – Present options – In decision making managers like to see alternatives and the consequences associated with each alternative. Some of the best decision making meetings I’ve been in with my bosses have been where we had meaningful dialogue around two or three viable options to resolving a tough problem.