Why Manage Up?

What is “managing up” — and why do people do it? This idea is really about managing your career in a way that benefits you and your supervisor. It is about understanding your boss’ role and concerns, your role and aspirations, and the realities of your workplace.

Some supervisors are better bosses than others. The idea of managing up is to help your boss succeed and get what you need for your career at the same time. Some people get frustrated when they see their boss’ shortcomings and may begin to let that affect their morale. Others begin a campaign of calling attention to their boss’ weaknesses, which can quickly become career-limiting. One win-win approach is to learn what your boss is trying to accomplish, what they do well, and what they need help with — and then become the star performer who helps them accomplish it.

It is important to learn how your boss likes to communicate when it comes to verbal or written information. Do they prefer the details or just the bottom line? Do they want regular updates or to hear from you only when there is a problem?

Do not let your boss be surprised by bad news. Stay informed and give them a heads-up early on. When you report problems, bring ideas for solutions. Always be honest and trustworthy. Do not sweep problems under the rug. Deliver on your promises.

Know your boss’ weaknesses and compensate for them. If your boss is not organized, help them be organized by managing their calendar or reminding them of meetings.

Ask for feedback from your boss so you can make sure you are focusing on the right priorities. Do not wait for your annual review. Ask for feedback and act on it.

Do not go behind your boss’ back or over their head. Earn your boss’ trust so you can discuss things openly. Support their decisions even if you do not agree with them. (Exceptions can be made here if the decisions are illegal or unethical.)

Managing up is not about manipulation, deception, or sucking up. It can be an approach to improving your situation if you have a poor manager and it can be an avenue for taking charge of your career.

Think about where you want to go in your career and identify the skills you need to develop and the experience you need to make your next step. Share your aspirations and ask your boss to be your partner in your career development. Volunteer for projects, committees, etc., to demonstrate your initiative, leadership, and willingness to be a team player. Going above and beyond is how you get noticed for promotion.

There are dozens of articles online about managing up. If you are not getting what you need from your boss, don’t quit or despair. Look through the online strategies and try new approaches to see what works. Take charge of your situation and make it work until it improves or you find a better opportunity. Find a mentor in your field and seek guidance. The important thing is not to stay miserable. Be hopeful and be the change you want to see in the world. Someone famous once said something like that.

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