Managing Up – How To Manage​ Your Boss

Managing Up – How To Manage​ Your Boss 

In the article, When to Delegate, I wrote that managers need to focus most of their time performing tasks that only someone in the manager’s role can do. In my opinion, the most important use of a manager’s time is meeting 1-on-1 with your people every week to discuss their performance and coach them to realize their full potential.

I also wrote about the importance of gaining managerial leverage by learning how to delegate effectively.

You could call this part of your role “Managing Down”, where you (the manager) create space in your week to spend the majority of your time performing 2 vital functions:

  1. prioritizing the work of your team with clearly defined SMART Goals
  2. meeting frequently to discuss performance and provide coaching

What about “Managing Up”?

You may have also heard of the concept called “managing up”, which I choose to define as making sure your own performance is aligned with the goals and wishes of your boss (or if you are CEO, aligned with your board of directors).

I’m not talking about Machiavellian scheming and politicking to advance your career, I’m talking about doing your job in a way that helps everyone to be successful: your boss, you, and the people you manage.

Here are some of my best practice recommendations for “managing up”:

1. Ask, Don’t Assume.

Ask them to create a “user manual” to help clarify their expectations and answer the questions below:

  • How does your boss prefer to communicate? (e.g. face to face, phone, email, instant message). Tip: Even though your communication preference may differ, where possible use their preferred style to be more effective in your communications with them
  • How frequently does your boss want you to check in with them? Tip: I recommend a formal Daily Huddle
  • How frequently does your boss want to meet to discuss your performance? Tip: I recommend a formal weekly 1-on-1 Meeting
  • Besides your organization’s Core Values (which are “musts” for everyone in every role), what other behaviors or habits does your boss like/dislike in the workplace? Tip: Ask them. Don’t let your ignorance of their unspoken rules undermine their perception of you
  • What are their expectations in terms of working hours and “face time” at the office?
  • How quickly do they expect you to respond to their communications?
  • What is considered “after hours” when a response from you is not expected? Tip: Ask them. You may need to negotiate here
  • What are their goals? Tip: Usually the best way to achieve your goals is to help your boss achieve their goals. I’m not just talking about the goals on their software dashboard. Learn about their career and personal goals, and ask what you can do to help them achieve them.

2. Clarity is Critical.

If you are delegated a Project or Task, make sure your boss follows best practice delegation techniques. Don’t let them just say to you, “Can you do this please?”

You may need to teach them how to delegate effectively. Go through the delegation checklist steps to clarify both party’s understanding of each step. Even if you have to write the steps and show them the checklist to make sure they agree, it will be worth your time. Better to spend 5 minutes to clarify and agree on expectations upfront, than to disappoint your boss later.

3. Keep them Informed.

When it comes to your Metrics, Projects, and Tasks, be proactive, and provide them with timely information that preempts any questions they may have.

If something is falling behind, proactively let them know what is happening, what the cause is, and what action you are taking to address it, without them needing to ask.

Show your boss that you can prioritize your own work. Set your own Tasks and indicate to them what you believe is your most important priority each week and each day (“the one thing”). This shows you have initiative and don’t need to be told what to do. Yes, your boss may re-prioritize your work, but you make their job much much easier when they can clearly see what else you have on your plate and what you believe your priority should be.

4. Don’t “Reverse Delegate”.

Reverse delegation is when a person gets into the habit of going directly to their boss with a problem and asks, “What do you think I should do?”. This shows a lack of initiative and an inability to problem-solve.

Yes, if something “mission-critical” goes wrong, inform your boss immediately. However, most issues are not that urgent. I’ve written before about using the GROW framework to present the issue along with your recommended course of action.

G = Goal. 

What is the goal? What is the desired outcome? What problem are we trying to solve?

R = Reality. 

What is happening? What are the facts? What does the data say? Why is that happening? (tip: ask this last question 5 times to identify the root cause)

O = Options.  

What options do we have? What are the short-term and long-term consequences of each option?

W = Way Forward. 

What option would you choose? What is the next step?

Go to your boss after using the GROW framework to think through the issue first and present your thinking to them in this format. Show them that you can accurately assess a situation, generate options, and make wise recommendations.

This makes your boss’s job so much easier. They can now accept your recommendation and let you get on with implementing it, or discuss with you why they think another option would be preferable. Either way, it’s a great coaching opportunity for both parties.

5. Manage Up and Down.

As you have probably gathered, the practices listed above are the same practices you should discuss and teach to the people you manage to enhance the effectiveness of their working relationship with you.

Tip: At your next 1-on-1 meeting with your direct reports, go through this article, and discuss how you could apply these concepts with your team.


Until next time…