article

Managing Up

Revel Gordon

Developing a positive, effective relationship with your boss is a vital aspect of career management. Not only is she or he responsible for ensuring that your role aligns with and supports the organisation’s overall objectives; but they’re also the primary influencer of your remuneration and promotion prospects. Having a dysfunctional relationship with your manager – even if they’re a poor leader – is not generally a poor idea. It is also important to build effective relationships with others above you in the organisational hierarchy.

How to build an effective relationship with your boss

The first role of managing up is to make your boss look good. Carry out your role well and ensure that your priorities align with her priorities. Imagine that you were in your boss’s shoes, and think about what you’d want from the person in your role.

One of my clients, a Chief Information Officer, wanted to prepare for the arrival of a new CEO, who would soon be starting at his organisation. He prepared a two-minute “elevator speech”, designed to demonstrate that IT’s priorities were aligned with the likely concerns of the incoming CEO. When the new CEO put his head around the door, my client was ready to make an effective first impression. And make no mistake, first impressions really do count, especially when the new boss is sorting his people into mental categories labeled: “Good”, “Not sure” and “Got to go”.

Dealing with an ineffective boss

If you dislike or don’t respect your boss, you have three options: 1. do nothing and make a conscious decision to accept things as they are, 2. improve the relationship, or 3. find another job. There just isn’t any upside in having a dysfunctional relationship with your manager. If you decide that the situation is intolerable and quietly start looking for a new position, it still makes sense to improve your relationship with your manager in the meantime and leave on as good terms as possible. It’s a small world (especially in Australia), and you never know when you will need a reference or run into him or her again.

Building effective relationships with other senior stakeholders

The relationship with your boss (or bosses, in a matrixed organisation), is just one aspect of managing up. You should also develop relationships with others who are above you in the organisational hierarchy, including your manager’s peers. Look for opportunities to make them look good. Think about their goals and priorities, and how you can help them achieve them. The more champions and supporters you have in the ranks above you in the organisation, the better.

There is one caveat to this. In managing up, your primary loyalty needs to remain with your direct boss. So if one of his peers or even if his manager wants to complain to you about your boss’s behaviour, it’s usually best to either support your boss or to stay neutral and tactfully change the subject. Be very careful about getting drawn in to a “whinging session” regarding your boss’s behavior, even if the criticism is entirely deserved. Once you start making negative comments about your manager, you look like a traitor, and nobody likes or trusts those (even if your boss entirely deserves the criticism). If you have an issue with your boss – or anyone else – it’s generally best to address the matter with them directly.

Conclusion

Paying conscious attention to the relationships you have with those above you in the organisational hierarchy is one of the most effective ways to fast track your career. This includes developing the relationship your boss, his peers, as well as those even higher in the organisational heirarchy. If you are a direct report to the CEO or one level down, look for opportunities to meet members of the Board and add value from their perspective. Think about what keeps them up at night, and what you can do to help them sleep better. When promotions are being considered, executives who have developed positive relationships with those making the decisions (and those who then need to ratify the decisions) are in the driver’s seat.

Developing a positive, effective relationship with your boss is a vital aspect of career management. Not only is she or he responsible for ensuring that your role aligns with and supports the organisation’s overall objectives; but they’re also the primary influencer of your remuneration and promotion prospects. Having a dysfunctional relationship with your manager – even if they’re a poor leader – is not generally a poor idea. It is also important to build effective relationships with others above you in the organisational hierarchy.

How to build an effective relationship with your boss

The first role of managing up is to make your boss look good. Carry out your role well and ensure that your priorities align with her priorities. Imagine that you were in your boss’s shoes, and think about what you’d want from the person in your role.

One of my clients, a Chief Information Officer, wanted to prepare for the arrival of a new CEO, who would soon be starting at his organisation. He prepared a two-minute “elevator speech”, designed to demonstrate that IT’s priorities were aligned with the likely concerns of the incoming CEO. When the new CEO put his head around the door, my client was ready to make an effective first impression. And make no mistake, first impressions really do count, especially when the new boss is sorting his people into mental categories labeled: “Good”, “Not sure” and “Got to go”.

Dealing with an ineffective boss

If you dislike or don’t respect your boss, you have three options: 1. do nothing and make a conscious decision to accept things as they are, 2. improve the relationship, or 3. find another job. There just isn’t any upside in having a dysfunctional relationship with your manager. If you decide that the situation is intolerable and quietly start looking for a new position, it still makes sense to improve your relationship with your manager in the meantime and leave on as good terms as possible. It’s a small world (especially in Australia), and you never know when you will need a reference or run into him or her again.

Building effective relationships with other senior stakeholders

The relationship with your boss (or bosses, in a matrixed organisation), is just one aspect of managing up. You should also develop relationships with others who are above you in the organisational hierarchy, including your manager’s peers. Look for opportunities to make them look good. Think about their goals and priorities, and how you can help them achieve them. The more champions and supporters you have in the ranks above you in the organisation, the better.

There is one caveat to this. In managing up, your primary loyalty needs to remain with your direct boss. So if one of his peers or even if his manager wants to complain to you about your boss’s behaviour, it’s usually best to either support your boss or to stay neutral and tactfully change the subject. Be very careful about getting drawn in to a “whinging session” regarding your boss’s behavior, even if the criticism is entirely deserved. Once you start making negative comments about your manager, you look like a traitor, and nobody likes or trusts those (even if your boss entirely deserves the criticism). If you have an issue with your boss – or anyone else – it’s generally best to address the matter with them directly.

Conclusion

Paying conscious attention to the relationships you have with those above you in the organisational hierarchy is one of the most effective ways to fast track your career. This includes developing the relationship your boss, his peers, as well as those even higher in the organisational heirarchy. If you are a direct report to the CEO or one level down, look for opportunities to meet members of the Board and add value from their perspective. Think about what keeps them up at night, and what you can do to help them sleep better. When promotions are being considered, executives who have developed positive relationships with those making the decisions (and those who then need to ratify the decisions) are in the driver’s seat.