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Managing Up

December 04, 2013
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When it comes to managing, most of our efforts are spent with those that report to us directly, but there are times that call for a different type of managing — managing up.

Yes, that means managing your boss. That means giving feedback and holding your boss accountable like he/she does for you.

Great leaders recognize that others may know things they don’t or things from which they could benefit. They are open to suggestions from employees willing to <Photocredit>Thinkstock/i-Stock/WavebreakMedia</photocredit>take risks to help improve the organization. A critical leadership characteristic is the ability not only to provide feedback to our employees but to accept feedback ourselves.

How do you manage your boss? Is it worth the risk or are you better to keep quiet? Certainly this type of managing tends to be more difficult and holds a much greater risk. However, I venture to guess most of us would agree that the person who needs managing the most in many organizations is the boss.

Experience tells us that, in today’s business world, there are many bosses not readily receptive to advice, suggestions or input. Consequently, we tend to get frustrated and walk away, deciding it’s not worth the risk. However, the long term result of this decision is that organizations, and ultimately the customers, suffer. These managers have narrow visions and see just one way to accomplish anything — their way. There are many bosses, though, who are receptive to coaching and feedback, ones willing to listen to ideas that may improve workplace performance.

Managing up may not be much different from managing a direct report. The key is to be professional, tactful and respectful. It may also take a little extra time and effort to get your point across, employing your best persuasive powers. Be sure you deliver the message in a way that your manager will be open to receiving. Focusing on facts, data and logic with objective analysis will give you a greater chance for success.

When done effectively, the results may amaze you. If done inappropriately, you better be prepared to accept the consequences.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind when delivering your message:

  1. Plan your conversation so you don't catch your manager or leader by surprise.  
  2. Listen as well as talk; you may not have a grasp of the whole picture.     
  3. Propose a plan or solution to the problem being brought to your boss’s attention. Don't just drop it on his/her desk. If possible, propose more than one solution.
  4. Let your boss have time to ponder your discussion. Don’t ask for or expect an immediate response.

Ultimately, show that you plan to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. Enlightened leaders are ready, willing, and able to accept feedback and coaching from their people, as they understand this is a critical component to organizational success.

When employees are willing to bring opportunities to their boss’s attention, collaborate on solutions, and provide a vision of the future as they see it, they are true organizational stars. These are the employees who are not only engaged but dedicated to the success of the organization.

Take a proactive approach to point out opportunities to improve your organization. Manage up when appropriate and, more often than not, you will find it worth the risk.

Scott Tackett joined Violand Management Associates (VMA) with a 32-year background in manufacturing, human resource management and organizational leadership. He is currently a business development advisor for VMA where he works closely with business owners and their key management staff as both a business consultant and an executive coach. To learn more about VMA’s services and programs visit Violand.com or call (330) 966-0700.

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