Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

Managing Up Tips: Learning Your Manager

As a corporate trainer and team development consultant, I’ve learned a few managing up tips along the way.  Certainly, a key element for success when managing up is the employee learning their manager inside and out so that they can customize their behavior and actions to match their individual preferences.  That may sound great, but the next logical question is what specifically should an employee learn about their manager in order to be poised to manage up successfully?

Are they a morning person or night owl?

This might sound simplistic but understanding their preferred time of day can make a huge difference in the success of day to day interactions.  Have you ever had someone bite your head off only to realize the hard way that they’re just not a morning person and if you want to successfully coexist with them you have to catch them after they’ve had their morning coffee.  While you can certainly figure out this morning/afternoon preference over time by trial and error, it’s so much more practical to just ask them up front.  You may be surprised by their answer, and they’ll probably be somewhat impressed that you’re taking the time to ask proactively.

What’s their preferred communication style?

This one is HUGE!!!!  We’ve all experienced miscommunications in the workplace and seen first hand the potential devastating consequences that can ensue when we’re talking past one another, misinterpreting tone, or falling victim to other common types of miscommunication.  Figuring out how your boss prefers to be communicated with is a huge step forward in your ability to work with them more effectively (and making you the type person they prefer to work with).  To better understand their communication style, you should ideally figure out the following about them:

  • What is their preferred communication mode?  Face to face, phone, email, text/IM?
  • Do they prefer to see/hear the bottom line up front, then details or the details first then build methodically towards a conclusion?
  • Are they more visual, auditory, or kinesthetic?
  • What is their attention span?  Do they prefer shorter meetings (even if you might need to have more frequent meetings) or a single longer meeting to get it all done at once?  Do they glaze over if they get a report more than a single page?
  • Do they prefer brief emails with white space and bulleted points?
  • Do they prefer direct or more nuanced language?

How do you get this valuable information?  More realistically, it’s learned through a combination of direct questioning (when there’s a relevant scenario ideally instead of just asking out of the blue), asking others who know them well, and simple observation.

What are their pet peeves/hot buttons?

Every boss has pet peeves, and they can vary significantly.  Some feel that showing up 5 minutes late to a meeting is a sign of complete disrespect while others feel there’s a natural 3-5 minute leeway for start times.  Some might value responsiveness over everything else and expect to get a response to every email the same day; others may be more laid back and prefer to receive a response when you have something significant to share.  Some bosses have more of a micro management tendency and want to be “in the weeds” so to speak while others are turned off by too much detail or too much involvement.  Definitely take time to figure out what types of behaviors set them off and do everything in your power to avoid them.

Which issues are their priorities?

Managers also vary quite a bit in terms of their personal priorities.  Are they focused on getting promoted, growing the product line, getting the project finished on time on budget, producing zero defects, developing a high performance team, ensuring team morale is high, managing work life balance, etc.? Figuring out what issues they care about most and helping them achieve their goals in that regard can be valuable.

These managing up tips can certainly poise an employee to adjust their behavior to better suit their manager.

For additional managing up tips, this video provides great tips and techniques for managing different types of difficult bosses.

Dana Brownlee is author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches (to be published by Berrett-Koehler publishers January 2019).  President of Atlanta based Professionalism Matters, Inc., Dana is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee. 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/danabrownlee/

Managing Up Mistakes to Avoid | Managing Up Training

Managing Up Mistakes to Avoid

While managing up is a critical skill for success, managing up mistakes can be career debilitating. First, let’s define what we mean by “managing up”.  As a corporate trainer and team development consultant, I define managing up as follows:

“A subordinate customizing their work style/behaviors to better suit their manager, taking steps to make their manager’s job easier, and/or proactively striving to optimize success for all.”

Obviously, managing up can have a very positive impact on business results when done effectively, but it could also have a very negative effect when executed poorly.  The key to managing up the right way is avoiding a few classic managing up mistakes.
When Managing Up, an Employee Should NOT…
  • Try to “take over”.  Employees must recognize that managing up isn’t taking over.  Instead, they must always respect their manager’s legitimate authority.  Managing up doesn’t mean swapping roles or telling your manager what to do.  Instead, it’s seeing your manager’s weaknesses and making helpful suggestions and recommendations to improve likelihood for success
  • Offer unsolicited advice.  Offering unsolicited advice could be construed as lecturing your boss (which never goes over well).  Instead, ask them if they’d like feedback on a particular issue or wait until asked. An alternate to offering unsolicited advice could be asking pointed questions.  For example, if you think the project should not use a particular vendor, your thought bubble might be “Dude, are you crazy? We’ll never make our due date if we use Vendor X.  They’re notorious for delays!”   Instead, you might say “Jim, I can definitely give them a call and get the ball rolling, but before I call I just wanted to check to see how much buffer time we have with our due date.  I’m not sure if you’re aware, but Vendor X has been late shipping product at least three times that I’m aware of so I want to be sure you’re comfortable with the fact that there could be delays.  What do you think?”
  • Focus on the boss’ weaknesses or personality quirks. Understanding your manager’s vulnerability areas or quirks is really important, but obsessing on them can be not only futile but counterproductive as well.  The reality is that you’re not their therapist or their parent so stay in your lane!  Focus instead on the task or goal at hand. For example, if your boss is unorganized, role model the desired behavior by offering to develop a structured plan instead of calling them out on their deficiencies.
  • Use the same approach with everyone.  A key element of managing up is learning to customize your behavior to best fit your manager’s preferences.  This might mean opting for early morning meetings with your boss if you know that’s their preference or avoiding your natural temptation to chit chat about the weekend for the first few minutes of a meeting if you know that they have more of a BLUF (bottom line up front) personality.

A huge element of managing up is learning to customize your behavior/techniques to best fit your boss’ personality.  Techniques or habits that might work well with one type boss might not with another.  This video provides valuable tips and techniques for managing four specific varieties of the “difficult boss”.

Dana Brownlee is author of The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches (to be published by Berrett-Koehler publishers January 2019).  President of Atlanta based Professionalism Matters, Inc., Dana is an acclaimed keynote speaker, corporate trainer, and team development consultant. She can be reached at danapbrownlee@professionalismmatters.com. Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee.