The secret to managing upwards

Tarun Kohli
Aug 10, 2018 · 4 min read

If you’re given a choice to manage your boss or be managed by him, what would you choose? Did I just see a spark in your eyes? Or, was it dread?

By the way, I must tell you that it’s nothing like being a sidekick of your boss! Flattery, skullduggery, or any of that masquerading behaviour won’t work here!

What I am proposing here is the concept of managing upwards.

Umm..well! What does that mean? Did we miss that part in our job description? Is it our job to manage our boss or is it the other way round? I’m not sure if I am capable of managing my subordinates; leave alone managing my boss. Moreover, why would any manager wants his subordinate to manage him?

Okay, okay! Calm down. Easy. Inhale, exhale! Breathe……

Managing up is a method that’s based on consciously working for the mutual benefit of yourself and your boss. It’s about taking proactive actions to manage your relationship with your leader.

You’ll probably feel that it’s too overwhelming. It could be because you are reeling under the perceived notion of authority. Or, you might be of the notion that your manager knows everything and you are there to help them with the execution stuff — that it’s not your job to question their strategy, only to implement it. And you would win their respect and admiration if you were doing what you were told. Working efficiently and communicating your share of troubles is your job, but managing upwards?


Let me present a scenario — you are doing stellar work in your organization, whereas your boss who has just joined the team is facing some hiccups. So you go ahead and help him in understanding how things work. You give him extensive feedback regarding his leadership style and offer advice on how to overcome certain loopholes in his methods. Your boss is impressed with those inputs and decides to work on them which further empowers you to do great work.

Voila! One software patch, two bugs solved! That, my friend, is how you manage upwards.

Assuming that I have intrigued your interest towards managing upwards, let’s get to the point-

So, what’s the secret to managing upwards?

Challenging your boss.

No, you got the wrong idea — not for a fist-fight!

Challenge your boss to think bigger, do better and be better. I can’t begin to tell you how leaders are starved for someone to challenge their thoughts and actions.

Successful leaders look forward to conversations in which they are given candid feedback, their thought process is challenged, or they learn something new. All the things that tell them, without a shadow of doubt, that their team is far better than them.

I don’t mean to say that you offer a contrarian way just for the heck of it, and challenging them is definitely not a license to be disrespectful or condescending. But, I think you owe it to them to think through things on their behalf and see if they got it right.

Because it’s quite improbable that a leader would get everything right. Thus, it’s part of your job to shine light on the areas that they might have left unexplored.

Even better is getting to things that they haven’t had the time to figure out yet. Thinking through them and then presenting them with certain solutions.

So, in a nutshell, this is what good leaders love-

  • Challenge. Good bosses love when their actions or methods are questioned or challenged to create a better outcome for the team or the organization.
  • Their direct reports having an owner’s mindset — not a follower’s one.
  • Their team voicing their opinion when they hear or see their leader going down the wrong path. And, not relenting till the time a healthy debate has been concluded.
  • Team members willing to be part of the solution, not just the problems.

All of this doesn’t mean that challenging is a conduit to a successful relationship even if you suck in execution.

Having good execution skills is the baseline and you can only rise above that baseline, if you treat your boss like a partner — challenging them and offering suggestions to make their thought process better, which eventually might make them a better leader.

I really hope this helps you become a better team player and a future leader.

You can find more of my drivel on Twitter or Linkedin.

I wrote this blog for our Medium Publication- Unboxing Product Management. The publication is a weekly column by leaders of Quovantis to share their learning and knowledge with the world. If you liked reading the blog, clap your heart out and help others find it.

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process and People.

Tarun Kohli

Written by

Founder & CEO of Quovantis, an avid book reader and a student for life

Unboxing Product Management

Your weekly dose of everything related to Product, Process and People.

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