I am not sure when I first heard the term “managing up.” I am fairly certain it was associated with having a bad or disengaged boss. As I look back over the course of my professional career, I have come to the conclusion that I have never truly had a “bad boss,” and that the term “managing up” is much more than just dealing with a poor leader. As association professionals, we are primarily led and assisted by volunteer leaders. Most of us report to a board of directors or a CEO. I have found over the years that there are plenty of opportunities to manage up as I define the term. So the question is, what does it mean?
What is managing up?
When you manage up, you make sure the leaders’ and the organization’s needs are your top priority. One way to effectively do this is by ensuring that both you and your superiors are on the same page.
Here are a few things that I think managing up is:
- Listening to and seeking to understand the goals of your boss or board.
- Spending quality time with them to clarify and understand their motives and aspirations.
- Clearly communicating your strengths and weaknesses that are applicable to this mission.
- Communicating what resources you may need from your boss to ensure that these goals are reached.
- Enriching your leader’s work by going above and beyond the call of duty to perform.
Here are a few things managing up is not:
- Telling your boss or leaders what goals he/she/they should
- Keeping your leaders at arm’s length or on a need to know basis.
- Demanding information and/or resources unrelated to company goals.
- Taking the credit for your leaders’ work.
- Pretending or communicating to others that you are the leader if you are not.
How do you manage up?
John Maxwell has some great suggestions on how to begin to manage up in your relationships with your board or other leaders in his book entitled “The 360-Degree Leader.” Some of his suggestions are as follows:
- Lead yourself exceptionally well.
“The key to leading yourself well is to learn self-management.”
- Lighten your leader’s load.
“When the boss succeeds, the organization succeeds. Conversely, it is almost impossible for you to win if your boss fails.”
- Be willing to do what others won’t.
“Few things gain the appreciation of a top leader more quickly than an employee with a whatever-it-takes attitude.”
- Invest in relationship chemistry.
“People won’t go along with you if they can’t get along with you.”
- Know when to push and when to back off.
“Successful leaders make the right move at the right moment with the right motive.”
- Become a go-to player.
“All leaders are looking for people who can step up and make a difference when it matters. When they find such people, they come to rely on them and are inevitably influenced by them.”
As you can see, most if not all of the suggestions are focused on your individual approach to managing up and not on how inadequately or poorly you are being led. I have learned that in order to be a good leader, you must first learn to be a good follower. Managing up seems to be an exercise in learning how to follow well. We are all challenged to blaze new trails, but remember that a path well followed will get you to great destinations as well.