Managing Up

Author: Pete Richter

I’ve had a lot of experience in management. I’ve been in some form of management for almost three decades now. Honestly, I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way, of course, and learned from having managers that were both good and bad and then being a manager and going through those struggles.

What I found out there is, there’s a tremendous need for people to know what to do once they become a manager. I don’t think there’s a lot of training. I think a lot of people wind up winging it and don’t really have an understanding, “Okay, so now I’m a manager, what exactly does that mean? What exactly am I supposed to do?”

There’s so many things to learn. There almost ought to be some kind of management university, and maybe that’s in our future. Something I wanted to talk about today is, there’s four directions of management. When anybody becomes a manager, there are four different ways you have to manage. Just like, as an individual, you’ve got different relationships, you can be a husband and a father. You’ve got co-workers, you might have children. You’ve got to wear many different hats.

As a manager, there’s actually four general directions you have to manage. That’s up, which is what we’re going to cover today with your superiors, those to whom you report. Then there’s those who report to you, that would be managing down. Then there’s managing out would be to your co-workers, people that are co-managers, they may manage other aspects of the business, other departments. Then there’s in, managing yourself. Obviously, there’s a lot to say about those topics, but today we’re going to cover managing up.


The first thing to understand about managing up is your owner had a vision for why he started the business. Any business was started by somebody who had some kind of a vision. As a manager, you should make it a point to learn why did they start this business? There’s all kinds of reasons people started business and it’s good to know that. It may be that they saw a need out there and they wanted an opportunity that they thought they could take advantage of. It could be they’ve always had this idea, they’ve been passionate since they were a young person and they always wanted to do this. Bottom line is everybody has a story why did they start the business. As a manager, for you to understand that, will really help you understand how your role fits in to their why. Why did they start the business? How does your role fit into that? You want to know their story. What is their story? Did they make significant sacrifices?

I came from a business, where it was apartment management, building management. The owner of that building, I worked for him for a couple of decades. His story was, this was one of the buildings that he managed, that I managed, was a high-rise apartment building with over 1,000 apartments. When he first saw the building, before he was involved in it at all, he told the story about parking in his vehicle in the park right across the street from these two twin high-rise buildings. Basically, they were the projects at the time. There was different colors of sheets blowing out of windows. They didn’t have matching window coverings in this property. There was all kinds of drugs, prostitution ran rampant in this property.

He sat out there, looking at these towers and thinking to himself what they could be, what they could become. That was his vision. That was the first time he had seen those properties. I wound up working for this guys for 18 years and he had turned those buildings into a luxury high-rise apartments, awarded multiple times management awards from the city of Chicago and just an incredible success story. It really helped me understand as I was doing my job, what was it that he was looking for, how could I please the guy that I was reporting to and understand where he started with this building made a big difference in my day to day tasks.


Another thing too that I want to cover was getting their vision. Get their vision of what their perfect picture is. Everybody that starts a business has an idea in their head of what it should look it. If everything’s running the way it’s supposed to, what does that look like to them? That picture might be different from the people that are actually doing the job every day. Understand from the person that started that business what does a perfect picture look like and that can really affect and help you prioritize your responsibilities and decide what’s important, separating the important from the non-important. If you understand what is important, what’s the perfect picture look like to the person that started the business.


Whether it is the owner of the business or maybe you are reporting to somebody that’s your direct boss, that may be not the owner, but he’s in between you and the owner, these things still apply. If you’re doing a good job, what does that look like to them? Find out from them what their priorities are, what’s important to the person you’re reporting to.

One of the ways, I think, that falls through the cracks often is managers don’t always adapt to the style of how the organization is run. For example, communication. I do remember the days of communicating a lot by phone and I remember the days when email first came on the scene in the workplace. Even before voice mail, you’d leave the little messages with the receptionist or something like that. The important thing, though, with communication … Obviously, there’s many different ways to communicate with somebody, but I would, as a manager, find out the person that you’re working for, how do they like to receive communication? Do they prefer email? Do they prefer texting? Whatever way they prefer receiving communication from you is how you should adapt. It’s not what’s comfortable for you and what you’ve always been used to, you need to change that mindset.

I’m now managing up, I’m now trying to manage my way successfully in the direction of upward, so what I want to do is how do they want to hear information? How often do they want it? How much do they want it? We’ve all had jobs where your boss will tell you, “I don’t need to know that, why are you CCing me on this?” Or, “Why didn’t you CC me on this? I want to know about everything.” It’s your job to find out. If they change their mind, that’s not something for you to criticize, it’s something for you to adapt to. If they, at one point say, “I want to be involved in everything,” and the next minute they tell you, “You only have to let me know of the things that are important,” it’s up to you to adapt.

What you’re looking for is you don’t want them … The biggest thing with communication is you don’t want your people that you report to, to get surprised. You don’t want them to find out something that you could have given them heads up on, obviously, an important issue. You don’t want them to get hit out of left field. You want to keep them in the loop as much possible on those things that certainly are significant, even if the job protocol doesn’t tell you that you have to do that. I’m telling you, anybody you manage for, people you manage for don’t want to be surprised. If there’s something that’s an important issue, they want to know about it as soon as possible. Again, you want to tell them in the way they like to receive it. That could be a text, could be a phone call, could be email, whatever works best for them, not necessarily for you.

If you think about it, it really ties back to where we started, which is if you understand their vision, you understand why they started it, then you therefore understand how your role fits into that, that really will help your attitude. Also, these are good questions to ask before you even take a job working for somebody. Find out what their perfect picture is. If you’re doing a good job, what would that look like to them? Once you understand that they took the risk, they started the business, so they get to call the shots. Your job is basically to run the day to day of that operation or that department that you manage for them and you want to do it the way they want you to do it. These are, I think, terrific tips to help you do that.

What an owner wants or what your boss wants from you is they want to be able to trust you. Some people inherently don’t trust anybody and that’s what they’re used to. There’s ways that you can establish trust that will really help in your management. The first is, obviously, one of our core values here is integrity, in our company. Integrity means you are the same through and through. You do what you say you’re going to do and you keep your word and you defer to somebody if they thought you said something and you didn’t mean that, you still, you are true to your word, even if that means bending to let them have their way.


Bosses will see right through your attempts to make yourself look good. That’s a classic mistake managers make, is they only give the boss enough information to make themselves look good and they leave out the rest that may make them not look so good. It’s integrity and basically, just be honest. Even if that makes you look bad, that will help you gain trust with the people you report to. If every time they’re asking you for some information, you’re not always painting this picture of how terrific a manager you are, but you also include, “You know what? You’re right, I should have done that, but I didn’t do that, I’ll take care of that right away.” Or, “You know what? My fault.” When something happens, you tell exactly the way it is, even if that may make you look bad, that will help you gain trust with the people you report to.

Then lastly, it just comes down to respect. They will have respect for you, if they know when they come to you and they say, “Hey, Pete, what happened?” That you’re going to tell them the whole truth, everything they need to know, not only those things that make you look good or you protect your little kingdom from them being upset with you. You tell them the whole truth. If they know they can come to you, that will give them tremendous respect for you.

Of course, what will happen then is you probably can expect the same from them, because respect always goes both ways. Once you give it or once you earn it, usually it either is given back to you or it gets earned back. The best way to do that, I think, is to let them know, even those times where something went wrong, but you think they ought to know about it, even if you’re questioning whether they should know it, let them know about it, because I think that will earn you trust in their mind.


About the Author:
Pete Richter With a passionate and strong work ethic to serve his clients, Pete can run with the best. His devotion and unparalleled customer service learned through 24 years of executive management has resulted in a continuously expanding network of loyal clients and referrals. Whether rooting on the Blackhawks, Cubs, Bears or Bulls, in his free time, you can find Pete watching or talking sports.


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