Managing Your Boss – 3 Keys to Leading Up

bigstock-Business-concept--isolated-on-15729464I have been very fortunate to work with some fantastic leaders in my career—but not all managers I have worked for have qualified for that title. They may have been my bosses, but they were not effective leaders.

So what do you do when you have a manager who is not providing the leadership you need or deserve? I suggest three key strategies for managing your boss.

Key #1: Manage Yourself First

What? “I thought this was about managing my boss,” you say? It is difficult, if not impossible, to manage others if you’re not managing yourself first. That means being accountable, keeping commitments, supporting other team members, and doing what you can to make a contribution—to add value. The more you are seen as a valued member of the team, the greater influence you will have in managing up.

Key #2: Communicate Regularly

If you don’t do this already, I recommend that you schedule regular one-on-one time with your manager. At least once every two weeks, sit down together for fifteen to thirty minutes and share progress reports, obstacles and concerns you face, and needs you have for direction and support. Start each one-on-one meeting with an update of commitments both you and your manager made during the previous one-on-one.

Key #3: Ask for What You Need

Managers are not all-seeing, all-knowing human beings. Just like everyone else, they are generally horrible guessers when it comes to what others need. Do you need more clarity about a recent assignment? Do you need direction on where to start? Do you need your manager to trust you and give you the autonomy you deserve on this assignment? Then ask. Be clear and specific and ask for what you need. For example: “Hey boss, do you have five minutes to provide some more detail about what you need from me on this assignment?” Or “Hey boss, since this is something I have done before, I would really like to lead this activity.” Most managers are willing to help but wary of micromanaging so they don’t offer. Remember to just ask.

What if Your Boss Refuses to be Managed?

You can be a solid performer with superior communication and people skills and your manager can still choose to be unsupportive, or even worse: A seagull manager. Seagull managers are never around until you make a mistake. Then they fly in, make a lot of noise, dump all over you, and fly away again. If you have done everything you can to get the leadership you need and it is not working, you have two choices: (1) accept it and let it go; or (2) remove yourself from that manager.  (See an earlier blog post for more information regarding these options.)

What other strategies do you use to manage your boss with integrity, in a way that builds the relationship? I’d love to read your comments.

About the author:

John Hester is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies who specializes in performance and self-leadership.  You can read John’s posts on the second Thursday of each month.

14 thoughts on “Managing Your Boss – 3 Keys to Leading Up

  1. Very good post with very good suggestions. Unfortunately I agree that if there are no other options leaving is the last choice. But before doing that I prefer to consider also to Act and don’t react to what’s happening around you as I wrote in one of my posts in my blog.

  2. This post is especially crucial for young leaders who have less experience in professional settings and tend to view leading as hierarchical. In addition to accepting the role of “leading from below” they also must learn patience. It may be to their advantage to manage their emotions and stay in place for a year or two to build their resume. I I often remind them Ithat it’s important to learn all things you will NOT do as a leader. Good post!

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  4. Manage up is about managing distance, not too far and not too close. Second, manage up is about managin commnunication. You must never duck your head pretending your boss knows what you’re doing. However, rotating yourself round your boss end up with losing your value.

  5. Good points all. Have found that managing up, with bosses inclined and disinclined to accept it, the most important thing is organization. A step more than managing yourself, it also means keeping your team on target for deadlines, delegating well, and monitoring how the completed work is being received. This prevents the seagull manager (great phrase btw!) from having ammo for a dump. Communicating these achievements internally, not just to the manager, but also to peers is critical so your team has allies beyond yourself.

  6. Thank you, what I needed to know, kind of seagull my boss: never around when something good, but when something’s bad they would make you feel the worst

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  11. Very helpful article. Recently i have joined in a new office though i am really happy about my new job and my new boss but i would try to follow your guide line. Thanks a lot sir.

  12. Excellent post. Its so easy to lash out at the manager in all walks of life without the self criticism and constructive attitude that Joh is talking about.
    Many thanks.

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