Leaders are quite consistent when they talk about their biggest challenges, frustrations and problems (as my latest survey confirmed).
“Managing upwards” is nearly always near the top of the list.
It’s a struggle for lots of different reasons—your boss hasn’t taken the time to understand your challenges, they think they have all the answers, they don’t communicate enough, they’re too long-winded, you get conflicting messages, they avoid having difficult conversations, their emotions or their ego gets in the way, and so on.
Regardless, if you want to be an effective leader and progress your career, it’s important that you find ways of being more influential up-the-line, particularly with your boss.
Benefits Show Up When You’re Good at It
When you effectively manage upwards, your days are less stressful and your job’s more fulfilling because you’re more easily able to:
• Recruit heavy-hitting support when you encounter roadblocks
• Better resource your work
• Get support for your ideas and initiatives
• Avoid being delegated time-consuming, unproductive tasks and projects
• Enhance your career, your earning and your job security
• Elicit stronger support from your team members because they see your boss supporting you.
Think of it as your responsibility to find a way to make the relationship with your boss work!
I know, it’s not always easy (especially if you don’t entirely value your boss) but let’s dig in to see what we can do to ease the pain…
It’s Not a Good Idea To…
- Point your finger at them
I don’t mean literally, of course. But how often do you hear people complaining about their boss in a blaming, accusatory way?
Bad-mouthing your boss to others in the organisation is career-limiting behaviour.
- Bow upward and boss downward
Head-nodding and sucking-up up-the-line but using a whip with your direct reports is never going to pay off.
What Can You Do to Skillfully Manage Upwards?
Whether your “upwards” is the Chair of the Board or a first-line supervisor, I suggest you work on these approaches:
- Point your finger inwards
Instead of complaining about your boss, ask yourself, “What could I be doing to be more influential?” Nobody’s perfect. Will you make more of an effort to be supportive where you think they have limitations? And appreciate their strengths?
- Think about their needs
What does s/he care about? What are their top priorities? What pressures are they currently facing?Think about their wants, needs, fears and concerns. How could you and your team help with them?
Be a person your boss is glad to have around. When you exceed your boss’ expectations, you’re likely to get support in return.
- Be solution oriented
Most leaders try not to go to their boss with a problem—without having a solution to put on the table.
If you don’t have a solution, at least be solution-oriented. Say something like, “Look, I don’t have a solution for this right now. Can we talk it through and see what we can come up with?”
- Communicate their way
Consider the frequency and the form that they prefer.
Do they like:
—To chat or read emails?
—Frequent, detailed updates or occasional big picture outlines
—Scheduled, structured meetings or ad hoc pop-ins.
- Build trust by telling the truth
If you’re to trust one another, you and your boss need to have candid discussions.
Can you begin to increase the candour between you by saying “I’d like us to have a candid discussion about xyz. Are you good with that?”
Your Call to Action
Here are three actions for you to consider:
- If you wouldn’t give your current relationship with your boss an 8/10 or more, there’s work to be done. Which of the above suggestions could give you more mileage?
- Skillfully managing upwards has lots of advantages—and sometimes it’s not easy. Give me a yell if you want to chat about whether or not my coaching support would work for us both.
- You’re a boss too. Please, please make sure your team members aren’t finding managing upwards a struggle, won’t you?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Carolyn Stevens has worked with leaders for more than 25-years—hundreds of them.
She’s helped leader after leader become totally proud of who they are as a leader—confident, courageous, impressively influential (even when they’ve previously struggled to confront the difficult, let alone persuasively deal with it).
Carolyn is authentic and results-oriented. She’ll draw on an eclectic array of approaches, tools and techniques to suit your situation.
She’s never too busy to talk to you—or to leaders you refer who’re in a hurry to boost their success. Email to arrange a time to chat: firstname.lastname@example.org
“I learnt not only how to bring out the best in myself, but also
how to bring out the best in other individuals in my organisation.”
—Senior leader, ASX top 100 company