Written by DRG Group Member, Angela Joens
Have you seen the movie Jerry McGuire? Tom Cruise plays Jerry McGuire, a sports agent that is not doing well but he has one great athlete that requires a huge amount of work. He is trying to get this difficult client of his to work with him so that they can both be more successful. During this scene he is jumping up and down passionately screaming over and over “help me – help you!" This line, “help me – help you,” is exactly what I think of when I think of employees trying to manage up.
Managing up is the process of working with your boss to obtain the best results for you, your boss and your organization. It is deliberate. It is cooperative. It is a relationship between two people with different perspectives.
I have a lot of experience managing people and managing my bosses. Today I am the Assistant Vice Chancellor of Development Outreach for the University of California, Davis and manage six teams and over 50 employees. But when I started I was a little fish in a big pond. I had no concept of what it meant to “manage up”. I just did my job and everyday tried to meet the expectations of my boss and make them look really good.
Little did I know that this effort got me noticed and I was very quickly promoted. The more I continued to grow in my career, the more I focused on helping my boss be successful and the more successful I became.
There are many tips I have picked up over the years and things I do and, equally important, things I do not do when I manage up:
- Get to know your boss – The more you know about her and what makes her tick the better able you are to know how to help her be successful. What does she value? How does she prefer to communicate – in person or over email? Does she need lots of data or information to make her decisions? What did she do and how did she get to where she is today? Where does she see you fitting into her overall plan? Some of these questions can be asked out right and some are drawn out during conversations. Be curious and respectful.
- Anticipate and jump in – If there is a huge project offer to help. If there is something your boss is working on that she struggles with or causes her frustration – offer to take it off her plate. If you are strong writer or copy editor – offer to proofread important documents. If she cannot get to a project ask if you can take it on and provide her some options to consider. Believe me – when you make your bosses life easier and she didn’t have to ask you for help – she will notice you.
- Understand your manager’s strengths and weaknesses – This is critical because you can fill the gap. You can play to their strengths and assist with are areas they are weak in. Either way your manager will appreciate you because you took time to understand. I have a manager who struggles with consensus-building and change management but this is one of my strengths so I insert myself to help him. He is always grateful.
- Always Offer Solutions – When you have a problem to share with your manager take it to her but also have a few solutions to address the problem. This demonstrates that you have carefully thought through the situation and have a few ideas for how best to solve it.
- Try to manipulate – Always be authentically you. Do not be that “yes” person in meetings. If you like the idea be supportive but if you have a better idea then offer that. No one likes a suck up.
- Attempt to cover anything up – Listen you are going to make mistakes. You are a human after all. The best advice I can give you is to be honest and take responsibility. Do not try to hide it and hope they will not find out. Do not try to point the finger or blame someone else. Just own it – apologize – and provide a few solutions to correct the situation. Your manager may still get mad or be disappointed but once they are over it they will remember how honest and mature you were – and know they can trust you.
- Get involved in office politics – Listen - this one is a tough one for so many people but the more you can stay out of it the more professional you will appear. Just be kind and treat everyone fairly. If you hear something juicy just keep it to yourself.
- Surprise your manager – No one likes to be surprised. Let me repeat this….no one like to be surprised. Good or bad it is not good to hide important information from your manager. If you know something could or will affect the manager, their goals, or a project – let her know immediately. This is a tough one because you may have to be the bearer of bad news – but it is better to always be transparent with your manager.
Managing up is a skill that takes time to build. I recently shared more tips in a webinar called, “What Everyone Should Know about Managing Up.”