Your Leader Wants You to Manage Up, Here's How
It was early in my career when a colleague said to me: “You need to manage up”. This, after I expressed frustration about my manager. I really didn’t know at the time what “manage up” meant. So, I related it to how I managed my team: Does it I mean I hold my manager accountable? Do I share feedback? Do I just make the decision so the team can move ahead?
After taking a step back and experiencing several missteps, I realized my colleague was telling me to show up as a leader, and in fact, my manager needed me to do so to achieve our goals. Part of being a leader is searching for answers to help you see clearly and step into your potential, not only for your success, but for the benefit of the greater good. For me and my manager to be successful, I was expected to take the lead in building a positive relationship based on transparency, trust, and aligned goals. I needed to manage up.
If your manager, a mentor, or colleague suggests that you manage up, it means they are expecting you to show up as a leader by taking a proactive approach to building a productive relationship.
Consider these strategies as you manage up:
1. Understand priorities and goals: This has me recalling some great advice I received years ago: “If it is not important to [your manager] right now, then it is not important to you right now.” That doesn’t mean your new idea, suggestion, feedback, etc., will never be heard. You need to focus on your leader’s priorities, goals, and expectations first. By demonstrating your ability to align your goals to that of your manager, you are in the best position to influence and present that amazing idea or suggestion. Even better, if that idea helps with a current problem, take the initiative, and show how you can help solve it.
2. Anticipate needs: Now that you understand what is important, be prepared to adapt to changing priorities. Keep your perspective broad and mind open to new ways of solving current problems. For example, if you see a colleague struggling to meet an important deadline for the team, find out what you can do to help. This will create an environment of shared success and show your manager that you are a team player.
3. Communicate your goals and priorities: While this could seem contradictory to the first strategy, that’s far from the truth. Managing up doesn’t mean sacrificing what is important to you. Remember, showing up a leader means supporting each other’s success. Build credibility by being clear on what you can or cannot do. When you communicate what is important to you, and how it will help the organization be successful, it will prompt your manager to engage in discussion on how to best support your goals and interests.
4. Find common ground: Managing up can be more challenging when you don’t have the best relationship with your manager - you often disagree, or you have lost respect for them. In these moments, it is important to respect their role and find common ground. One way is by collaborating on what is important to the team and the organization. This redirects to the positive impact both of you can have on others and helps identify the collective steps to take to achieve team goals. Keep in mind your managers preferred communication style and preferences, so you can tailor your approach accordingly.
5. Be open to feedback and guidance: Seek feedback and guidance from your manager regularly. Go deeper than the general question of “how am I doing?” For example, if you have been working on prioritizing the teams work more effectively, provide a status report to your manager, and after sharing your views on progress, ask what questions they have or what areas may need more focus. This targets the conversation on aligned priorities and provides your manager an opening to share their feedback about your performance.
Managing up means showing curiosity, humility, and situational awareness, foundational to effective leadership and building a relationship centered on mutual trust and respect. When you effectively manage up, you build knowledge and gain a broader understanding of where you can be of most value, positioning you and your team to be in the right place at the right time. The key to shared success.