Manage Your Boss
8 Ways to "Manage Up"
8 Ways to "Manage Up"
Is it really possible to manage your boss? If so, is it really necessary? After all, it can be hard enough managing those we’re responsible for without “managing up” also!
Whether or not you agree with trying to manage your boss, it’s still important to understand how he or she works. And from there, perhaps you’ll be one step close to being a more effective manager yourself.
In our previous articles we’ve considered some different approaches to time management. These suggest that it’s not really time we need to manage – it’s how we use it. So crucially, it’s important to consider the idea of quality time. Especially, how we make most productive use of our time. And one of the most critical factors in answering that question is the relationship we have with our boss.
What could be a more effective use of time than ensuring we have a mutually effective relationship with our own line managers? But conversely, what could have a worse impact on our time management than when things are difficult between you and your boss?
What do you do when working with your boss is hard work? Well, before you do anything, think about our tips to help you manage your boss – our 8 ways to manage up.
1 First try to understand your boss.
2 Don’t try to be a transformer.
3 Build on strengths.
4 Focus strengths on things that matter.
5 Find out what works.
6 Build your relationship.
7 How to avoid being overloaded or having your time wasted.
8 Build a bigger network.
In the classic Harvard Business Review article: “Managing Your Boss”, John Kotter and John Gabarro suggest several ways to achieve this. They state that you need to ensure you understand your boss, and her working context, by understanding her:
Then, you need to do the same for yourself. As Kotter and Gabarro discovered in their research, it may seem an unusual expectation to “manage up” but the need to do so is obvious.
“Just think of the job and how to be effective in it. How do you get the resources you need, the information you need, the advice, even the permission to keep at it? The answers always point toward whoever has the power, the leverage – that is, the boss. To fail to make that relationship one of mutual respect and understanding is to miss a major factor in being effective.”
Trying to manage your boss makes sense because it makes your job easier.
Accept that your boss is human, with strengths and limitations just like yourself. As we’ve discussed in other articles, it’s a far more productive approach to build on strengths, than trying to remedy limitations. If that’s good advice for managing your own staff, it’s equally good advice when trying to manage your boss.
So ask yourself: “what can your boss do really well?” Where do her strengths lie?It is tempting to try changing the way your boss works. Especially if you feel things aren’t going well.
However, it’s difficult trying to change personal preferences, habits, styles, and agendas. Difficult and not necessarily time well spent. The important thing is coming to understand what makes your boss tick, and developing an effective working relationship.
Far better to work on the basis of that relationship, and the way in which it’s conducted, than to try to change your boss. Ensure you meet regularly with your boss and try to develop a professional relationship based on mutual trust and respect. Peter Drucker put it well when he said:
“It takes far more energy to improve from incompetence to mediocrity than to improve from first-rate performance to excellence”.
We all feel good when we get better at what we’re already good at!
One effective way to manage your boss is supporting them in doing what they themselves are good at. Discuss their strengths and how they can be most effectively employed. Offer your own support in doing this, perhaps by taking on other roles yourself, especially those which utilize your strengths. Ensure your boss is familiar with the the concept of strengths-based management. Point out the value of this approach, both up and down the management hierarchy.
Of course strengths matter, but their real value only comes when they are applied to the things that matter. In his book: “The Effective Executive“, Peter Drucker suggested consideration of the following:
To answer the question: “what does my boss do really well?”, ask “what has she done really well?” Where is the evidence of what she’s very good at?
Then ask: “what does she need to get from me to perform?” Encourage the activities which build on strengths, but which deliver the goals and objectives discussed in step one.
Before you get the wrong impression, this is not an article about “crawling” to the boss. You need to start out with what you consider to be the right things to do. Then find ways to communicate these to your boss, and to get them accepted. Don’t forget we are all different, so it’s important to understand which method of communication and discussion is most appropriate for each particular boss.
In “The Effective Executive”, Drucker suggests that some people are “listeners” and others are “readers”. Some prefer to talk to understand, others must first read before discussing. If your boss is a listener, brief her in person and then follow up with a memo. If she is a reader, cover important points of your proposal in a memo or report, then discuss them. How can you encourage you boss to be involved in doing more things that they are good at? Remember this isn’t something you’re trying to do to your boss. Rather you’re trying to do things and comunicate ideas in a way that relates to their strengths.
If your boss is particularly good with your clients, but demands of work are restricting her time to do that, then make sure that you invite her out to meet important clients on a regular basis. Show appreciation of what she has done, and the value that her involvement brings.
Ask your boss to do something, propose activities which you know build on their strengths. Your efforts to manage your boss should be guided by what works for your boss.
How you go about building your relationship does of course depend on many factors. We’ve already discussed the need for good, regular, open communication. This should ideally help build trust, respect and understanding. The ease with which you can support them will naturally vary. Your ability to influence your boss will depend on how well you’ve understood the four factors discussed earlier: goals, pressure, strength and weaknesses, and preferred style.
Our forthcoming article “managing by friendship” suggests a counter-culture approach to managing. It may be that many of us would not count our boss as our friends. In fact in our articles: What Makes a Happy Company and The Value Of A Good Manager, we see that survey evidence points towards many of us finding our boss to be the least person we’d want to spend time with!
In this case you may prefer to manage your boss by spending as little time as possible with him! If this is the kind of boss you have what do you do? We cover this in our forthcoming article “Managing a Difficult boss.”
Firstly your boss will need your time and that is legitimate. What isn’t legitimate is an over loading, or wasting of your time. There are still ways that you can influence your boss time management. So what things can you do, and what do you need to look out for?
Don’t shy away from seeking help with managing your boss. Try to develop a network of people who can be a positive influence for you. Depending on a single boss can be a career limiting experience. Whether you have a boss who is more authoritarian, or so weak that they don’t have much influence within the organisation, you need to take time to build a bigger network.
Find and get to know the people who really make the decisions in the organisation. Find people who manage well. They are usually easy to find because everybody wants to work for them! Volunteer to help or work more closely with them on a project. Build your network both with managers at the same level to your boss, and with those higher up. Just ensure you look for those managers who create the right conditions for their people. And be sure to build this network with integrity and positive purpose. It’s important not to jeopardise the hard work you’ve put in building a professional relationship with your own boss.
The number one lesson here is this:
Work gets far easier for you and your colleagues when you’re able to manage your boss. The result can also be a more effective boss.
This article will probably not solve every boss management issue you have. Each situation is different and some suggestions will work, while others may not. The important thing is to realise the importance of understanding your situation, and of finding ways to manage it.
These are only suggestions, and each boss and each circumstance must be taken individually. However the value of effective time management, for you and your boss, is worth the effort and maybe even some risk.
There’s a wide range of time management resources in our store, including some great tools. Our e-guide: Managing Time and Priority is is packed with practical tools, tested ideas and a dash of radical thinking. It will will help you master two critical skills: managing time and priority. The guide will help you to:
Tool 1: Commitments summary
Tool 2: Time log
Tool 3:Time analysis
Tool 4: Time planning with task filters
Tool 5: Task priorities
Try our great value e-guides