Home Blog Uncategorized How to “manage up”: 5 tips I’ve learned over 20+ years

How to “manage up”: 5 tips I’ve learned over 20+ years


If there’s one thing I learned from my years on the corporate side (and in my years since working with larger corporate clients) it’s this: Managing up is everything.

I’ve seen many people who are/were talented strategists and writers passed up for promotions because they didn’t understand how to “manage up.” Heck, I’ve been one of those people in the past!

But, in my 20-plus years in this business, I’ve picked up a few best practices–mostly by observing these people who had mastered the art of managing up. Admittedly, I haven’t been the best at this in previous lives. But, I’ve found ways to implement these tips I’ve observed into the work I do today with clients. Because it’s so important–one could argue, just as important as the quality of the work you do!

So, today I thought I’d share a few of these tips I’ve learned over the years. I’m sure you will have your own best practices to share–and I’d love to hear them in the comments below. For now, here are mine:

Keep an “Arik is awesome!” file

With one small change: use your own name, not mine! In all seriousness, make sure to organize an email folder where you can collect notes and remarks from your manager, your direct reports and others across your company who have said nice/great things about you in the previous year. Couple different things you can then do with this content: 1) You can share it randomly with your boss–particularly when you’re having a really bad day!, 2) Bust all of these out during your annual performance review. No better credibility than third-party credibility! Bonus: Reach out to some of the people who gave you the highest marks and ask them to write you a quick LinkedIn recommendation with the same comments.

What’s important to your boss?

Do you know the answer to that question? If not, you best find out ASAP. This is a key way the best “manage up.” By figuring out what truly matters to your boss, you can then figure out how you can help solve those problems or achieve those goals. For example, let’s say a huge priority for your boss is raising your CEO’s visibility. Your boss is handling speaking gigs, awards and media efforts, but isn’t finding the time for social media. Could you volunteer to help brush up the CEO’s LinkedIn account and make suggestions for how she might be more active on the social network? By taking on work like this–work that matters to your boss–you’ll definitely be putting yourself in a completely different group within your peer set.

Use the 20% rule

Managing up includes managing the expectations of your boss. One the most effective tricks in the books is what I like to call the 20% rule. In other words, when managing deadlines with your boss, always ask for 20% more time than you actually need. That way, you’ll almost always deliver on time. And, most of the time you’ll exceed expectations by delivering ahead of time.

With communication, be uber-responsive (except on weeknights/weekends)

This tweet from Maggie Lamaack sums up how my thinking has changed on this front.

When it comes to communication with your boss, try your best to be as responsive as you can. You probably don’t need to respond within 30 seconds as Maggie mentions above. But, within an hour or two–you bet. There’s really no excuse with how tethered we all are to our phones. Now, the trick comes in at night and on the weekends. My feeling is you should be as responsive as you can from 7-7 (roughly) Monday-Friday, but resist the urge to respond on evenings and over the weekends (unless, of course, it’s an emergency). Being responsive is great–and it will distinguish you from others. Believe me, not everyone is responsive. Many more than you would think. But, being responsive on the weekends can be detrimental to your career and your health. After all, once you set that precendent than you’re responding to emails from your boss at all hours of the day, he or she will take advantage of that. No doubt about it.

Surprise and delight…with little things

One of the most effective ways I’ve found at building long-lasting relationships with managers and clients is pretty damn simple. Take the time to learn more about your boss. Her interests. Her passions. What she does outside of work. And, then use that information to surprise and delight her in little, and unexpected ways. For example, I have a client (read: boss) who loves the North Shore as much as I do. We both professed our love for World’s Best Donuts, the small little coffee shop in Grand Marais. So, the next time I was up there, I bought her a mug from that store. Just a small little gesture, but I’m quite sure it went a long, long ways.

Like I said before, those are just my tips. I’m sure you have other than have worked over the years. Please share what’s worked for you in the comments below.



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