Managing Up

By Sandra M. Martínez, PhD, PCC. 

It is well understood that our immediate boss has the most to do with our job satisfaction. They influence our experience on the job by establishing the tone and frequency of communication, defining our role and responsibilities (or not) and in many other ways setting the climate and culture of our teams.        

Sometimes we are fortunate and work with a manager who supports us and communicates well. However, our direct managers do not always manage or lead well. They may be defensive, be less than competent; they may be unreasonable or contradictory in their expectations and communicate poorly or be unwilling to take the time to communicate.  

In all these cases, it is more useful to step back from judging them about their perceived limitations, assess the situation with maturity, adopt a constructive approach, and develop the skills and a perspective necessary to thrive.   

What follows are a few pointers:

  • As employees, we work to create value for the firm, for our team, and, by extension, for our manager. It is important to develop a game plan to accomplish this.
  • Listen and observe to understand what makes your boss tick. When you are advocating for a project or idea, use this understanding to be persuasive.
  • Inquire how she prefers for you to communicate with her.  
  • Make thoughtful decisions about what to bring up, how and when to highlight issues or positions with your boss. 
  • Avoid approaching your boss with problems. If you must, consider alternative solutions to discuss, rather than simply presenting the problem.
  • Develop your skill and capacity to manage difficult conversations.
  • Set boundaries, when necessary, regarding your role and responsibilities.
  • Do not back yourself into a corner by idealizing how you wish the relationship to be or ‘should’ be and do not seek a friendship with your boss. 
  • Expand your network throughout the firm, seeking others who might offer other sources of support. 

Working with an experienced coach can help you gain deeper insight into the intrapersonal and interpersonal dynamics at play, adopt a constructive attitude about the situation, build capacity for difficult conversations, reduce the stress around “managing up,” and learn to exercise the power and influence you need to be successful.

To learn more about managing your boss, and in the process, developing your own leadership skills, contact Sandra for a consultation.