Managing from Down Under

The days of waiting for your manager to provide play-by-play instruction have fallen by the wayside in favor of “managing up,” a term in corporate-speak that simply means “managing your manager.” Dana Brownlee, renowned leadership influencer, defines “managing up” as an employee “customizing their work style/behaviors to better suit their manager” and “taking steps to make their manager’s job easier…” While this practice came into fashion as a technique to make your boss’s life easier and show your value as a proactive employee, the present-day impetus has more to do with what it offers the employee. An employee skilled at “managing up” exhibits executive level communications and strategic insight – two key skills necessary to build a leadership profile.

There is little doubt that your boss will appreciate your use of this career development method. An employee adept at managing their manager makes their superior look good. Employees who look below the surface find that this role gives them the opportunity to home in on their executive-level communications. A skillful employee asks, “What information is relevant to my manager and her direct superiors? How can I frame my report in a manner that makes it easy for my boss to re-use this information or pass along to relevant stakeholders with little to no edits?” A sample of this technique includes sending your boss an email draft that they can pass along to their superiors. This ghost-writing technique clearly makes your boss’s life easier and elevates your communications to a new level. It shows your ability to impart the right information at the right time.

Another benefit from “managing up” is the ability to influence strategic direction. With boots on the ground, employees are well versed in operational and client service data. Leaders, on the other hand, are likely not as close to the data and thus may not understand how decisions affect other parts of the organization. For example, what may appear to be a good strategy on paper may not be sound, based on client feedback. This is the opportunity for an employee to raise his or her hand and offer unique perspective in setting the strategy. Employees can color data with real stories in a way the executive team cannot. Employees skilled at managing up can share their point of view and recommendations so leaders can see the full picture. This translates into strategic planning experience before the employee is promoted to the leadership team.

“Managing up” is a valuable tool in the toolkit of employees with a desire to move into a more senior role. It offers opportunity to practice the very skills needed at the next level and enables employees to step into new roles with some experience under their belts. Additionally, it can strengthen the relationship with your manager. Unless your manager is like the lead in “The Devil Wears Prada,” this is likely a relationship you want to further develop!

Originally featured in UBA’s March 2021 HR Elements Newsletter.