How to make Managing Up work for you

Professors Gabarro and Kotter: “To fail to make that relationship one of mutual respect and understanding is to miss a major factor in being effective”

If you want to see your career soar then you need to know how to manage your boss. So, make your desk Mission Control and reach for the stars by Elizabeth Wakeling

The idea of managing up is not new; it’s been around for 40 years or more and as an EA you will already be doing some of it, probably without even realising it. Indeed, research suggests that career progression and satisfaction rarely occur if you don’t manage your boss. Some even suggest that the principle duty of all EAs is to have a successful relationship with their boss. If your relationship is successful, it’s much more likely that you’ll achieve your goals and do well in your career.

So what exactly do we mean by managing up? In essence, it is a way to develop your career by consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss. The concept is based on research by professors John Gabarro and John Kot-ter that identified the importance of “mutual dependence” in the manager-boss relationship. They argue that, when a sub-ordinate takes the reins in working out how best they and their boss work together, it leads to better outcomes for both sides. In other words, the relationship is based on interdependence, rather than hierarchy.

The interdependent partnership between EA and boss is somewhat unique in organisational terms. Responsibility flows in various directions and your role is to support and man-age yourself and your boss efficiently and effectively to meet your organisation’s goals. This requires a mutual understand-ing of each other’s needs and an understanding of how your rela-tionship functions. If you are able to manage and support each other effectively you will both reap strength and success.
Learning how to manage up will give you a deeper self-aware-ness and better understanding of your role in the relationship. It will also help foster a mutually beneficial, strategic partner-ship that adds value and makes work more enjoyable and far more productive.

Managing up begins with understanding the value of the rela-tionship between you and your boss. You depend on your boss for direction, feedback and support, while they depend on you for ideas, hard work and cooperation to achieve the organisation’s goals. Both sides have needs, and both sides have some-thing to offer. It is a critical relationship.

The process of managing up is not easy – it will require patience, emotional maturity and the courage to take action –but its rewards are worth the effort. Here are my top tips to help you develop the art of managing up:

Put yourself in their shoes The most important principle of managing your boss effectively is to understand who they are and what they want. While many EAs have an understanding of their boss’ goals and pressures, they often fail to assess their strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and work styles. Exploring these issues will help you think outside of your own needs, so you can identify commonalities and gain insight on how to inter-act more effectively with your boss.

Assess yourself and your needs Developing an effective work-ing relationship with your boss requires that you understand yourself. Recognise your own strengths, weaknesses, goals and personal needs, and pay attention to how you respond to being managed. It is important to understand your tendencies. If you can predict your reactions (or overreactions), you may be able to avoid distressing situations and build a more productive relationship. You will also be better prepared to advocate for your own needs.

Build trust This is a key element in managing your boss. Build trust in the relationship by being trustworthy. Make every effort to maintain honesty and dependability by meeting commitments and deadlines. Your positive example will impact not only your boss, but others around you.

Manage expectations One of the worst mistakes you can make is to assume you know what your boss expects. Most bosses do not spell out their expectations and the burden of dis-covery falls on you. Don’t wait for your boss to provide you with this information. Instead, initiate informal discussions on “our objectives” to help your boss clarify and communicate their ideas – this will also give you an opportunity to communicate your own ideas.

Communicate Make sure you do so in the way your boss receives information best. If they prefer to read, write it. If they hear best, speak it. If they like numbers, quantify your message. Make it a point to know your boss’s preferred style of interac-tion. To manage up you have to think and act like a manager. Ask thoughtful questions. This is refreshing and makes you more interesting to work with. To get what you want, you have to ask for it. Learn how to present ideas, for example, by framing them in a business context that your boss will understand. Pay attention to your timing, making sure you present the idea when other more pressing issues are not consuming your boss’s attention.

Have the right attitude Finally, and most importantly, managing up is not about manipulation or changing the way your boss works. You can’t control your boss, but you can control your attitude. To a large extent, managing up is simply that: having the right attitude. Being angry, resentful, snappish or passive will not make for a good relationship. Change what you can change and adapt your style – all relationships involve mutual dependence between two fallible human beings. Acknowledge that your boss can be damaged by your actions and inactions, and so can you, they need your cooperation, dependability and honesty.
When you understand that you do possess the skills, power and influence to manage up, you are well on your way to creating a more effective relationship. After all, according to Professors Gabarro and Kotter: “To fail to make that relationship one of mutual respect and understanding is to miss a major factor in being effective”.

Elizabeth Wakeling teaches vocational and academic courses in Business Administration

and is a past National Chairman of IMA – International Management Assistants UK