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How Do I Manage Up?

Updated: Jul 9, 2019

The key is to suspend your vision of the world so as to best understand how your supervisor sees theirs. We all filter the world, and function within it, according to our mental construct, which is the product of our education and experience. This is the same for your boss. Managing up is the art of understanding their world-view so you can adapt your talents into it, without subjugating your professional values and competencies.

With the exception of technical job performance, few things influence your workplace success more and are least understood, than the ability to manage up. I suppose for some of you even the blog title has you a bit baffled. After all, we’ve all been trained, or perhaps more accurately, conditioned, to the understanding that management (direction, governance, and control) is the exclusive prevue of the boss.

“The key is to suspend your vision of the world so as to best understand how your supervisor sees theirs.”

For the more seasoned executive, you hear managing up and you immediately conger up a vision of an academician with little, if any, practical experience telling you how the world spins. Now if you’re like me, you might be tempted to say to yourself, "That job title under  

my name comes with several scars and bruises, entitling me to exclusive insight as 

to how things should be done, junior.” For either camp, and all those in between, I encourage you to read on, your future may depend on it.

Message to the Boss

Possibly in contrast to your work experience, bosses do not have all the answers! We do not have a lock on all insight, wisdom and decrement. This might come as a shock to some, particularly to those raised in the ‘bosses have all the answers’, ‘top-down’ generation. This admonition is from one who has made his fair share of short-sided decisions due to an exaggerated emphasis on authority.

The best decisions are a product of multiple perspectives, not one singular view of an issue. Even the most dogmatic of leaders would agree there is wisdom in a multitude of counsel, yet we rarely see leaders conducting themselves or structuring their organization in a way that demonstrates a commitment to this obvious fact.

I’m afraid there exists an arrogance that comes with leadership (assuming we define leadership as a position on an organizational chart, more to be said on this another time). The mysteriousness of leadership arrogance is the insidious and subtle way it grabs ahold of the ego. A wise person is on guard for this deceptive enemy of your leadership, for left unattended it will take you down.

Message to the Subordinate

As a newly appointed fire chief, a wise police chief told me that it was my job to get along with my boss (city manager), not the other way around. Well, like most good advice, the wisdom of a sage chief was lost on this young upstart for some time - until it struck me he was instructing me to manage up.

The revelation goes something like this: bosses, like all of us, have a mental construct of how they see themselves and the world around them.

This imagery is different for all of us. It’s what makes up our paradigms, ideologies, likes/dislikes and our personal identity. It’s as personal as your fingerprint. No two are exactly alike. It makes no difference whether you agree with someone’s mental construct or not. They do, and in a very dogmatic fashion. For the supervisor, the way they see the workplace, its culture, tempo, division of labor, accountability, etc. is very real to them, regardless of what you may think.

What this wise chief was telling me was it was not my bosses’ job to morph into my workplace mosaic, but rather for me to adapt to his. This is not to say that you don’t speak your mind. Providing your best professional opinion is an obligation. Managing up is the art of speaking the language of your boss; it’s about doing your work in a way that harmonies with theirs. Their priorities become yours.

Let's Connect

Would you like to further discuss the art of managing up? Contact me.

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