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How To Manage Upward And Succeed At Your Career

“A group of people brainstorming over a laptop and sheets of paper” by Štefan Štefančík on Unsplash

Managing upward is the skill of communicating as often as necessary in a manner that helps your boss or manager achieve their goals.

But why would you want your boss to achieve their goals?

Managing upward is kind of like long-term savings.

It’s painful to get started. However, once you cultivate this habit, you’ll have a bank of credit you can draw upon when the chips are down.

Like any worthwhile business skill, managing upward takes time to develop.

Communicate The Way Your Manager Thinks

Whatever you think of their politics, former US Presidents George Bush [B2] and Dwight Eisenhower were readers who valued short summaries. They preferred one- to two-page documents that summarized the problems of the day.

Some managers like to read and prefer status updates of varying lengths that they can mull over. Others are listeners and prefer to receive information orally.

If your boss is a listener, you’re probably wasting your time preparing a lengthy report, fancy chart or convoluted spreadsheet.

In The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker cautioned,

“It is equally a waste of time to submit a voluminous report to a listener. He can only grasp what it is all about through the spoken word.”

Use Their Tools Of Choice

One effective manager of mine preferred a bullet-point summary every Friday outlining what I worked on during the past seven days and where I needed her help.

Does your boss want you to update him over Skype or face-to-face?

Or does she want everyone on her team to fill out information within a tool or document she uses?

Whatever your manager’s preferred approach, it’s your job to master their reporting tools of choice and present information within these tools in a way that suits them.

In other words, avoid putting your key metrics into a spreadsheet if your boss wants a synopsis over email.

Establish What Your Manager Values

You’re wasting your time working on a big project if it doesn’t align with your boss’s goals.

Review what his or her objectives are for the year. If possible, find out the objectives of those higher up too. (After all, your boss has to manage upward as well).

This way, you can anticipate their needs before they come to you with a last-minute request. You can also tailor whatever you’re working on so that it helps your boss succeed and makes you look good.

If you’re still unsure, career expert J.T. O’Donnell of WorkITDaily offered this advice,

“When you see your manager is busy or stressed, simply ask if there is something you can do to lessen the load. First, it makes them feel good to know you see they are busy. Second, ask it enough times, and they’ll start delegating things to you.”

Build Rapport

Rather than working in isolation on a project, take care to check in with your boss once a day, week or month or as often as suits their management style. This is all the more important if you’re part of a large team or working remotely.

As an introvert, I’ve always found this difficult but J.T. O’Donnell explained it’s a mistake to assume your manager wants you to keep your head down and stay out of their way.

“To manage up, you need to have a relationship with your boss. You need to earn their trust and respect…Don’t be afraid to have a conversation with your boss.”

Help Your Manager Become More Effective

Does your manager like to involve themselves in the thought processes that inform a big decision? If so, you might need to work on pages of figures and background information for them.

Or does he or she want to make a decision only after you’ve gathered all the facts and come to a recommendation?

Whatever your boss’s approach, it’s not your job to teach them how to overcome their limitations. Instead, evaluate your boss’s strengths and build on those. If he or she looks for the data, get it. Or if he or she wants you to make a recommendation, do it.

Drucker wrote,

“The effective executive also knows that the boss, being human, has his own ways of being effective. He looks for these ways. They may be only manners and habits, but they are facts.”