You are susceptible to stalling in your career if:
- You despise people who kiss up to the boss because you feel that one’s work should speak for itself.
- You could care less what your boss thinks or wants as long as you’re doing what’s best for your clients or firm.
- You plan to actively sabotage your boss or make him look dumb because he is incompetent and constantly takes credit for your work.
Although you may be justified for these behaviors, your unwillingness to manage up will make it hard for you to succeed.
In Power: Why Some People Have It and Some People Don’t by Jeffrey Pfeffer, he cites a study that shows your supervisor’s commitment to and relationship with you matter more to your job success than your job performance. I’ve experienced this finding in my career and I can bet you have as well. This dynamic is exacerbated at more senior levels because output at the higher levels is more intangible and harder to quantify.
We can spend energy debating the fairness of whether relationships should matter more than performance, but that won’t help you move up in your career. Instead, you’re better served to focus your energy learning practical ways to manage your boss.
Managing up goes beyond just getting along with your boss. It’s about forging such a strong relationship that your boss will go above and beyond to help you succeed.
Leveraging conversations with senior executives on how they got to their current role and what they want from their direct reports, you’ll see below ten tips to help you manage up and give your boss what they want. If you are the CEO or owner, you can extend these tips to apply to the board or your clients.
The core theme to these tips can be summed up in the one question you should constantly ask yourself:
How do I make my boss’s life easier?
Here are 10 ways to answer this question:
1. Lead and manage yourself well
One of your manager’s main responsibilities is to manage and lead you. If you can lead yourself well, this will save your manager a lot of time.
Start by taking responsibility for your responsibilities. Ensure you understand what your boss has assigned to you – both the specific outcome desired and timeline for completing the task. It’s easy for your boss to forget that it’ll probably take you longer to complete a task than if she did it herself.
Do your boss a big favor by following through on the goals that were set. If you’re in a role with quantifiable measures for success like sales, managing yourself well means crushing your numbers so your boss doesn’t have to worry about you. When you don’t do your job, your boss will have to step in and fill the gap because they are ultimately responsible for your results.
2. Work on your boss’s goals
If you are good at your job, your boss’s peers and others will notice and will want you to help with their initiatives. Just because a project interests you, it doesn’t mean you should do it.
You want to first consider your boss’s main goals and to work on the projects and tasks to help him achieve his goals. Take time to understand the larger context of your role and how you and your boss add value to the organization.
If everything you work on helps your boss succeed, you will be invaluable to your boss. Remember that you can’t win if your boss fails. To take it one step further, strive to give your boss the credit (read more about the canvas strategy).
Employees frequently and unintentionally frustrate their bosses by not keeping them in the loop.
Whether it’s an update for an assigned project or mentioning an impromptu conversation with your boss’s boss, by the time your manager follows up with you about something, it’s too late. They’ve already heard something from their boss or peer and were caught unaware or they have a task pending that requires information from you.
Update your boss before they need an update. To make life easier for yourself, get into the habit of asking your boss how often they want you to keep them in the loop. When in doubt, overcommunicate. This is especially important when it looks like your project may fail. Give your boss warning way in advance so no one is caught by surprise.
4. Flex to your boss’s style
Everyone has his or her own preferred communication and management style. Take time to observe and match your boss’s style.
If your boss is:
- Innovative and enjoys taking risks and performing experiments, then focus more on the big picture and supporting her experiments. Catch your boss’s enthusiasm.
- Cautious and values routine and minimizes risks, then focus on sticking to the tried and true and slowly introduce change.
- Empathetic and pays attention to employee feelings and overall mood, then highlight your own ability to be attuned to the human element.
- Driving and demands much from herself and her staff, then focus on high-quality execution and setting a high bar for you and your peers.
Don’t argue and don’t be a “yes man”. Form your own views and challenge existing assumptions but do so in your boss’s preferred style.
5. Show loyalty
Always support your boss (as long as he operates ethically). This means executing his decisions as if they were your own. This also involves standing up for or supporting him in meetings where he or his ideas are being challenged and staying away from publicly or privately criticizing your boss.
Instead of pointing out your boss’s faults, find ways to fill in his gaps. For example, if your boss is great at getting things done but does so in a brash way, help him repair or build up those relationships.
The more your boss feels you truly have his back, the more he will have yours. All leaders need competent people they can trust to continue progressing in their career. If you act in a way that threatens your boss, don’t be surprised if your own career grinds to a halt.
6. Value your leader’s time
Every time you meet with your manager, be fully prepared so you don’t waste her time. Have your agenda ready along with updates that your manager might be interested in. Every minute she spends with you is time away from completing her own tasks.
If you plan to share a problem, come with an analysis of the issue and a proposed solution. If you don’t, you’re dumping unexpected work onto your boss’s plate, which most people don’t appreciate. Don’t make your boss think for you.
7. Do what others won’t
Bosses find it difficult to assign mundane or difficult tasks that need to get done. Since these tasks consume a lot of time, are not glorious and don’t develop new skills, most employees won’t raise their hand for these assignments.
Step up and help. Take the assignments that are annoying, boring, or difficult. Show that you’re not too proud or afraid to do what it takes to help your boss or to pay your dues. Extend this attitude to tasks that are not your exact job responsibility.
When you constantly step up and perform well, your boss will see you as the team’s go-to player. This recognition will give you access to better assignments that will boost your career.
8. Succeed with difficult people
One senior executive shared with me his frustration when his direct report failed to get along with her peer from another line of business despite numerous intervention from their bosses. These two employees’ inability to settle their differences hurt both their reputations and now one of them is no longer with the firm.
You rarely get to choose your boss or your peers. When you’re unable to collaborate effectively or manage conflict with others, your manager ends up stepping in. This is a drain on their time and a headache he doesn’t need.
Learn to develop strong working relationships with everyone by honing your emotional intelligence. Show you’re willing to do what’s best for the team and the firm and that you’re not just all for yourself. Build a reputation of creating win-win outcomes for all of your interactions.
9. Keep learning
Take charge of your own growth. Although your manager should guide and coach you, you’re ultimately responsible for mastering your craft and the softer skills needed for success.
The more competent you are, the more credible you’ll be. Set goals for WHO you want to be as opposed to WHERE you want to be. Attend conferences where you can learn about the newest developments. Take an active role in industry groups to network and hear what others are doing.
When deciding on which skills to develop, find the intersection between the skills your firm and boss needs and your interest and talents. Lean on your strengths.
10. Know when to let go
When communicating with your boss, timing is everything. Know when to push and when to back off. Gauge the mood of your boss and think about how your boss would react to your information and request. When possible, wait for the right moment to speak up.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is this matter urgent? Is it urgent for your boss?
- Will this information or request help your boss succeed?
- Do you have information your boss is not aware of and needs to know?
It is essential to know when to back off. If you’ve already spoken to your boss about something and she is not getting back to you, consider the following before pressing the issue:
- How much of this is my agenda vs. what’s good for my boss, the team, and the organization? Is the timing only right for me?
- Did I already make my point?
- If it’s bad news, do I really need to be the messenger?
- Is the current environment or my boss’s mood friendly to what I’m asking for?
- Could I be overstepping?
Take time this week and observe your activities and interactions with your boss. Gauge which activities are helping to make your boss’s job easier and which ones make your boss’s life more difficult.
Photo by Kenny Louie