managing your boss: 8 ways to “manage up”

8 ways to “MANAGE UP” Part 1 of 2

Is it possible? If so, is it necessary? Many would argue, it’s hard enough managing staff we’re responsible for, without managing the one above us! Whether or not you agree with trying to manage your boss, it’s still important to understand how he or she works. And from there, perhaps you’ll be one step close to being a more effective manager/ executive or assistant yourself.


Here are 4 out of 8 tips to help you “manage up”:



1 – Understand Your Boss


In the classic Harvard Business Review article: “Managing Your Boss”, John Kotter and John Gabarro suggest several ways to achieve this:


Goals and objectives; Pressures and issues; Strengths, weaknesses and blind spots; Preferred workstyle.


Then, you need to do the same for yourself.


As Kotter and Gabarro discovered in their research, it may seem an unusual expectation to “man age up” but the need to do so is obvious.


“Just think of the job and how to be effective in it. How do you get the resources
you need, the information you need, the advice, even the permission to keep at it?


The answers always point toward whoever has the power, the leverage – that is,
the boss. To fail to make that relationship one of mutual respect and
understanding is to miss a major factor in being effective.”


Trying to manage your boss makes sense because it makes your job easier.



2 – Don’t Try To Change Your Boss


Accept that your boss is human, with strengths and limitations just like yourself.
As we’ve discussed in other articles, it’s a far more productive approach to build on
strengths, than trying to remedy limitations. If that’s good advice for managing your own staff, it’s equally good advice when trying to manage your boss.


So ask yourself: “what can your boss do really well?” Where do her strengths lie? It is tempting to try changing the way your boss works. Especially if you feel things aren’t going well.


However, it’s difficult trying to change personal preferences, habits, styles, and agendas. Difficult and not necessarily time well spent. The important thing is coming to understand what makes your boss tick, and developing an effective working relationship.


Ensure you meet regularly with your boss and try to develop a professional relationship based on mutual trust and respect.


Peter Drucker put it well when he said:


“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate
performance to excellence”.


We all feel good when we get better at what we’re already good at!



3 – Build on Strengths


One effective way to manage your boss is supporting them in doing what they themselves are good at. Discuss their strengths and how they can be most effectively employed. Offer your own support in doing this, perhaps by taking on other roles yourself, especially those which utilize your strengths. Ensure your boss is familiar with the the concept of strengths-based management. Point out the value of this approach, both up and down the management hierarchy.



4 – Focus Strengths on Things That Matter


Of course strengths matter, but their real value only comes when they are applied to the things that matter. In his book: “The Effective Executive“, Peter Drucker suggested consideration of the following:


To answer the question: “what does my boss do really well?”, ask “what has she done really well?” Where is the evidence of what she’s very good at?


Then ask: “what does she need to get from me to perform?”


Encourage the activities which build on strengths, but which deliver the goals and objectives discussed in step one.

May 8, 2013
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