I’ve been out of the corporate/agency lifestyle now for four-plus years. Technically, I work for myself. I am my own boss.
But, I still have to manage up.
Every day I am managing client expectations and “managing up”. So, even though I’m not longer an “employee”, I still have a boss. Multiple bosses in fact–they are my clients.
So, managing up is a skill I’m constantly working to hone. In fact, I’ve been working to hone it now for almost 20 years.
While I can certainly always improve in this area, I thought I’d share some tips and advice that have been “politely” shared with me over the years–or tips and advice I’ve seen work effectively first-hand.
Help your boss relieve pain points
When you’re part of a corporation or agency, one of your chief un-stated goals is always quite simple: Help make your boss’ life easier. In other words, help make what’s bothering them go away. Is your boss’ boss all up in her face? What can you do to take work off her plate so she can deal with that a bit more. Is your boss dealing with stress at home? Maybe there’s a project you can help a bit more with that would free him up a bit more to spend more evenings off the computer. Is your boss looking bad in meetings because she doesn’t know enough about digital marketing? Maybe you can help educate her a bit, in private, so she gets smarter–with no one else being the wiser. Find out what’s really bothering your boss–and work to help them get rid of it. Those pain points will quickly turn into gold stars in that upcoming review (people still give out gold stars, right?).
Be hyper-cognizant of your boss’ time
When I sat in for a client on maternity leave a few years ago, I had weekly hour-long meetings on the schedule with her boss (and one of my primary clients). I remember spending time prepping for those meetings and organizing my thoughts for each one. Making sure I had a crisp agenda. Organizing any content or plans that needed her approval–and making sure I had hard copies I could throw in front of her at a moment’s notice. I treated those meetings as they should: A precious opportunity for me to spend an hour with someone who’s locked away in meetings all day. I knew I had to spend that hour getting her approvals on urgent items, getting her input on strategic initatives, and figuring out other ways I could help relieve her pain points (see bullet #1 above). Use your boss’ time wisely–it’s precious. To them, and you.
A little bit of ass-kissing never hurt anybody
Managing up doesn’t come without a little ass-kissing. Sure, that comes in different forms. I tend not to be the guy who’s going to fawn all over his boss in hopes of a quick promotion. But, the fact remains: Bosses are human beings. They have egos, just like you. They want to feel loved. They want to be respected for their work. And they want that work to be recognized by their peers and bosses. So, would it really kill you to compliment your boss every once in a while? “Great work on that media campaign.” Or, “I really thought that memo you wrote from our CEO was spot on.” I mean, this isn’t that hard. And, it doesn’t have to come off like some sort of corporate suck-up. Really, it doesn’t. But the fact remains: stroking your boss’ ego is always a good idea.
Create and maintain a “Arik is Awesome” folder
Picked this one up from a good friend, actually. She said for any job she’s had, she always starts an email folder that’s dubbed “Amy is Awesome.” In this folder she catalogues all emails from internal partners, customers and vendors that laud her good efforts. Then, at the end of the year, when it comes to review time, she has a healthy does of emails singing her praises to show her boss. What better third-party validation of your work? Instead of YOU saying you’re awesome–your colleagues and partners are doing it for you!
Do great work–and work independently
Want to really manage up well? There’s really just one thing you need to do really well: Do great work. Consistently. And work independently. Most people who manage people want to hire great people who do great work. If that happens, everyone wins. The employee looks good because she’s doing great work. Your boss looks good because her employee is doing great work. And the company looks good because the employee is doing great work. Sometimes, the best “managing up” you can do has nothing to do with “managing”–it’s all about keeping your focus on the work at hand.
Know your boss’ hot buttons
Sometimes managing up has more to do with avoiding the hot buttons than it does relieving the pain points. Case in point. I once had a boss who employed what I would call more of an “authoritarian” management style. Needless to say, this particular boss was a top-down manager. So, chain of command was important. Unfortunately, this was many moons ago and I was much “greener” than I am today. I had run into an issue with my boss and we didn’t see eye to eye. So, I thought it would be a good idea to approach my boss’ boss and see what he thought. Once my boss found out I had gone directly to her boss, she didn’t like that so much. I got a severe slap on the wrist, and I looked bad in front of both my boss–and her boss. The lesson I learned? Know and understand your boss’ hot buttons and DO NOT push them. Unless you really want to get fired.