The Art of Managing Up

You Need to Manage Your Manager If You Want To Get Ahead

Want to be put on the fast track for a promotion?

Or become one of the top performers on your team?

Well then there’s one skill that you need to perfect that has absolutely nothing to do with how good you are at your day-to-day job.

It’s a little skill called managing up.

Now, managing up doesn’t mean that you’re trying to jump over your boss or step on anyone’s toes.

But it means that you’re managing your manager. You’re putting them in a position where they can help you do your job better (which in turn, will help them —I couldn’t find it on Google but trust me that very rarely does a coach get fired after winning the Super Bowl).

Here’s how it works.

You probably have a weekly 1:1 with your boss. Or maybe every now and then you have a skip-level (meeting with your bosses boss).

How does that meeting typically go?

If that 30 minute meeting isn’t packed with notes, ideas and a longer to-do list than you had before the meeting started, then you’re doing it wrong.

Even if your boss likes to make small talk, go for a walk, get a coffee, whatever — don’t be fooled. This meeting is not a “shoot the shit meeting.”

You haven’t earned that yet. You need to use those 30 minutes to your advantage.

One of the things no one ever tells you early on in your career is that you actually need to drive that meeting.

Your boss isn’t going to show up, give you feedback on your recent performance, and tell you what they’d like to see from you between now and your next meeting (but damn that would be awesome. “Dave, you’re doing great! This week, you should work on X, Y, and Z and then go home for the night. Talk later.”)

It’s on you to set the agenda for this meeting.

You don’t need to have a formal agenda in advance, but I like to at least keep a notebook of talking points.

I just keep a list in Evernote and title that note “[Manager’s Name] 1:1” and then add all of the things I want to discuss with him as I think of them throughout the week. This can be anything from questions I need to ask, to higher-level projects that I need help strategizing on, to little things that I don’t feel like bugging them about over Slack or email (the things that can wait).

Here’s why keeping that list is so important.

How many times have one of these two things happened at work:

  1. Your boss forwards you an email and asks you to look into something and you have no idea what they want.
  2. You’re working on something but you feel lost, aren’t sure if you’re making the right decision, or even just stuck starting a blank screen for something you were supposed to write.

Don’t just reply to that email with “huh?”

Look into it, do your research, and make it a point for discussion at your next 1:1.

Don’t just sit there feeling lost or staring at a blank screen.

Write down your thoughts/questions/potential options that factor into the decision, and make it a point for discussion at your next 1:1.

As a result, instead of sitting there in your 1:1 saying “so, what should I be doing?” you make it crystal clear that you’ve been busting your ass, doing a great job, and that you deserve their time and attention to help do that job even better.

As a bonus when you can, this is a great time to talk about results and hammer home the things you’ve accomplished lately. This could be something you shared with them recently: “Yeah so that email I sent you about the leads from last month — that was a really great campaign” or something they don’t know about yet: “So it’s looking like InsightSquared is interested — I got through to their VP of Marketing and we have a demo call set up for next week.”

The best boss I’ve had so far was great because he made it his priority to remove roadblocks for me so I could succeed.

That is awesome.

But no boss is going to identify the roadblocks that you need moved — that’s your job. You need to come prepared, and when you do, he/she will help put you in a position to succeed.

Treat your 1:1 with your boss as the most important meeting you’re going to have that week.

If you were trying to close a deal with a huge new account that would have a material impact on your business, you’d probably prepare a few things in advance of that call right?

Treat your 1:1's the same way.

Use your 1:1 to be your roadblock removal meeting.

Managing up will not only help you run better meetings, but it will help you remove roadblocks, do your job even better, and put you on the path for that next big step in your career.