Managing Up Mistakes to Avoid | Managing Up Training

Managing up is a critical skill for workplace success, but managing up mistakes can become a recipe for disaster. Dana Brownlee shares critical managing up mistakes to avoid. The Unwritten Rules of Managing Up: Project Management Techniques from the Trenches to be released 1Q 2019 by Berrett-Koehler.

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 Connect with her on Linked In or Twitter @DanaBrownlee.