When you were hired for your job, I bet the job description didn’t say, “make sure you have extensive managing up experience.” This is a given and inherent in any job. The only difference is there is very little development on actually HOW to manage up. And yet managing up is one of THE most important and vital aspects of your role.
So how do you create impact and influence by managing up? Managing up is founded on a few key principles.
- Make it your job, your responsibility, to make your boss’ life easier, and to help them do a great job. Helping your boss do a great job might mean getting involved in projects that are technically not in your job description. It might mean stretching yourself. These actions often result in your learning new things, or having exposure to parts of the company you wouldn’t otherwise, and can expand your own opportunities.
When I was working for a financial organization, spearheading marketing, publicity, and advertising for the New York market, my boss asked me to assist in promoting a New York-based press tour for the former Prime Minister of Israel, Yitzhak Shamir. While this was certainly not in my job description, I realized that this was a passion project for my boss, and if I could assist, it would go a long way in building our relationship. I hadn’t ever done political publicity, and needed to navigate the waters of a potential hotbed of sensitive issues. This unique situation provided me with additional opportunities to learn and grow. While completely out of the scope of my responsibility, it was meaningful to my boss, and it became meaningful to me. Such a situation is a win-win for both you and your boss.
- Tap into the social media channels your boss is connected to. This is a way of understanding them and where they’re coming from so that you can help them. I know this is controversial in the sense that some people want to keep their personal life separate from their workplace, or feel strongly that their boss should at the least not be the initiator of friending or following them on social media platforms. That’s probably true in most cases. On the other hand, if I report to someone, I want to follow them on social media channels such as LinkedIn, which is a professional network that would not be an unusual place to be connected to your boss.
I would want to see who is in my boss’ network, the type of updates my boss is posting, the articles they’re sharing or writing, what they are commenting on and what their network/s communicate about. These are ways to know what your boss is passionate about. Professional social media platforms could be an indicator of what’s most interesting to your boss. When you know what is most interesting to them, you can be of greater value to them. Once you know your boss, and know their primary interests, you can be deliberate in developing a strategy on how to create more connections and resonance with them. This helps you in fulfilling point number 1—helping your boss do a great job.
- Make what your boss wants possible. Everybody has goals that they want to achieve. What are your boss’ goals? What’s their agenda? What can you do to help them achieve what they want? They may outright say what they want, or, they may give you some big clues. Maybe they want to be the next CEO. Maybe they don’t want a promotion; maybe their goal is to improve relationships in the company or to develop a particular branch of the business. Whatever it is, how can you help? Develop a strategic plan for how you can assist with what your boss is looking to accomplish. Deliberately make yourself the go-to person for helping them achieve it.
Let’s take for example Jim, who reports to Bob. Bob wants to do the best job he can. He wants to make sure the business is operating at an optimum level, that people are being groomed and developed to take on broader responsibilities, and in particular, he wants to make sure that their new investment succeeds. They are going through a massive transition as a result of adding a new multi-million dollar facility. Within three months, they are going to onboard over 150 new people. Jim, who is overseeing the new facility, is deeply involved in this. He can look at Bob’s situation, and knowing what Bob is trying to achieve, ask himself, “How can I deliberately become the go-to person who helps him achieve those objectives?” He realizes that growth area for his boss is communication. So, for one, he’s thinking about how he can help his boss with communications. He might also be thinking about helping Bob onboard someone who is an expert at internal communication, someone who can work with Bob closely on that over the long term, as a way of helping Bob succeed. (They did wind up hiring a communications consultant in this case, and it proved helpful to Bob and to the whole team.)
- Demonstrate discretion and loyalty. Your boss wants to know that you’re there for them, that you’ve got their back. We expect our boss to have our back, and we need to have their back too. When my boss shares something discreet with me, I must keep it confidential. It builds trust between us.
- Learn the art of anticipation. If part of your job is managing your boss, and if part of managing your boss is helping them succeed, then by thinking ahead and anticipating what your boss might need next, you are going to save time, effort, and energy. In order to anticipate, you need to thoroughly know your own role, your boss’ role, and your company culture, so that you can stay ahead. Then you’ll realize, for example, “If I go to this meeting, I’ll get a piece of information that can help my boss with this project that they’re working on for the CEO. That will put them in a better position as they go for their goal of…” Anticipation is part of strategically helping your boss achieve what they want.
- Get into the trenches. Your boss is counting on you to get into the trenches and really do the work that’s necessary to get things done. What that means varies by situation, so think about what exactly that could mean in your case.
In addition to relating to their values, it’s also worth paying attention to behavior style when you’re looking for the ways that you can make someone’s job easier. It could be that your boss is not a risk taker, and maybe you’re in a position to step out and take some risks that your boss doesn’t because they are afraid—or too cautious or conservative—to do it themselves.
You may have a boss who is hard to read, or whose personality shifts from moment to moment. That makes it challenging to give them the information and assistance they need. In such a case, it’s all the more essential to be mindful about what makes your boss tick, their values, their focuses of interest, their passions and priorities.
- Make sure you are on top of knowing your industry and knowing trends in that industry. This might be apparent to many, and yet it’s hard to overstate its importance as a way of ensuring that you are an asset to your boss. Look for strategic ways to show that you are well-informed and share that information and savvy with your boss. Also, you want to network, and make your boss aware of your network.
I have an example in the other direction, of someone not drawing on their network. This client has a tech background and has in the past worked at significant tech companies. Now he is working at a studio in Hollywood. He is introverted and shy, and he doesn’t make his network known to many. Imagine if he said to them, “Let me bring in people I know well from Apple, Google, and Facebook—real thought leaders—and we can talk about the issues and situations that we’re looking to tackle and get their insights and perspectives. While these are competitors of ours, they can also be our allies.”
These eight key principles of managing up are all built on the primary point, which is helping your boss to do a great job. This is paramount. If your aim too is to be of service to others this is a terrific way to manifest that – start with one of the people closest to you – your boss.
Esther Weinberg is the Chief Leadership Development Officer and Founder of The Ready Zone. To dive deeper into the ideas and strategies offered in this article, complete our Needs Assessment and we’ll schedule time to connect. In the meantime, download our FREE eBook – “Better Leaders. Better People. Better Results. Six Eye-Opening Strategies to Thrive Through Change You Did Not Ask For”