Written by Megan Davis

What is managing up?

Managing up sounded terrifying to me the first time I heard it. The second time too, if I’m honest. I’m supposed to tell my manager what to do? If I do that, are they going to assume I think they’re a bad leader? Who am I to tell her what she should or should not be doing? 

Well, turns out, that’s not what managing up is. (Phew.)

Instead, most people agree that managing up is a method of developing your career by building a healthy, positive relationship with your manager to better understand how to be a source of help to them. When you do that, you can both produce the best possible results — for you, your boss, and your company. Manging up is a win-win — when done correctly.

How to manage up

Your boss is many things, but they are not a mind reader, and neither are you! One of the first steps to managing up effectively is getting to know your boss and understanding them on a deeper level. When you build a strong, trusting relationship with your manager, you’ll:

  • Understand how they communicate and like to be communicated to. (Ask simple questions like: “Does it work better for you if I send weekly email updates about my projects, or would you rather talk through them in our staff meeting?”)
  • Be able to anticipate their needs. (Always offer to help when something is urgent, but also become familiar with the patterns of your organization and find out where you might be able to pitch in to help. Is the beginning of the monthly particularly busy with newsletters? Ask if you can help draft articles or be the final proofreader. Keep your eyes and ears open and show them that you are paying attention.)
  • Know what makes them “tick.” (Pay attention to the things that seem to light your boss up and what seems to put them in a bad mood. If you know they love it when people volunteer their ideas at meetings, speak up! And if they’ve asked you more than once to do something a certain way, try to make it a habit.)
  • Become a trusted, reliable source of assistance who can help them work through problems. (The best leaders hire people who are brighter and more talented than they are, so don’t get frustrated if it seems like you know more than your manager. Instead, show them that you are there to help and that you’re a rock star on the team.)

It will take time to build the right relationship with your manager, and like any relationship, it will have ebbs and flows. But stick with it, and it won’t go unnoticed.

Managing up is different for everyone

As you go through your career, you’ll have many managers, each with their own preferred style of working. You’ll need to learn to adjust, be flexible, and customize your work style so that you and your manager can work together in harmony.

When you manage up the right way, you become a more effective employee and create true value for your boss and company. And that can go a long way in furthering your professional success and expanding your leadership skills. Not to mention, it can prime you better than you think for having your own team one day!

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