Career Tip – Managing Up

“What is my manager’s deal, anyway?”

Here’s some career advice that can help you build a more effective relationship with your manager. Remember, they may be a manager but they don’t know everything, or everything that you do, and they are navigating work and life with just as much trepidation as you are! If you haven’t been a manager, it’s sometimes hard to understand why they’re doing what they are and how to best work with them to make both of you happy. So you want to figure out how to “hack” your manager by managing up!

For many years I treated my managers as random-weird-request generators, and frequently worked at cross-purposes with them. until I got advice on managing up and it helped my career.

Managing up, or managing your manager, is an important skill that can contribute to a more productive and positive work environment. Here are some key pieces of advice to effectively manage up:

  1. Understand your manager’s priorities and expectations: Take the time to understand your manager’s goals, preferred communication style, and expectations. Ask them if it’s not obvious! This knowledge will help you align your work and approach accordingly, or at least find a happy medium. (Feel free and tell them the same about you!) Managers usually have a very specific reason for why they’re asking for something and why they are stressing the things they’re stressing; understanding why is the key to understanding them.
  2. Build a strong relationship: Develop a positive and professional relationship with your manager. Be proactive in seeking feedback, understanding their working style, and demonstrating your commitment to achieving shared goals. Our managers try to share the context of what needs to happen with everyone so that they can go do it with autonomy, so reflecting your understanding of and commitment to what’s going on at a high level helps them empower you. If you can help them achieve their goals via a plan you put together, it prevents them needing to “micromanage” by also dictating how to get there.
  3. Communication is key: Maintain open and regular communication with your manager. Keep them informed about your progress, challenges, and any important updates. Be clear, concise, and respectful in your communication, and adapt your style to match your manager’s preferences – remember they have a bunch of people they are trying to wrangle to understand the state of a lot of projects.
  4. Anticipate needs and be proactive: Try to anticipate your manager’s needs and take proactive steps to address them. Take initiative, suggest solutions to problems, and offer assistance when appropriate. Show that you are capable of working independently and taking ownership of your responsibilities.
  5. Make clear asks: Your manager is there to get you what you need to do your job and be happy and healthy. But everyone is different. They don’t know how you prefer to get recognized, or what kind of projects you want to work on, or resources you think you need to be successful… So tell them! They should be trying to figure it out by asking you too, but “communication is hard” and people often make assumptions based on a given situation or communication that may or may not reflect your needs.
  6. Provide solutions, not just problems: When you encounter challenges or issues, avoid simply presenting the problems to your manager. Instead, propose potential solutions or alternatives. This demonstrates your critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and it lightens the burden on your manager by offering actionable suggestions. If you don’t have a good solution to a specific issue it’s fine, but sometimes a manager can become dismissive of someone who “just complains all the time” because it adds work to a limited time without any help.
  7. Seek and act on feedback: Actively seek feedback from your manager on your performance and areas for improvement. Be open to constructive criticism and use it to grow and develop professionally. Demonstrate your willingness to learn and make necessary adjustments based on the feedback received.
  8. Manage your time effectively: Prioritize your tasks, set clear goals, and manage your time efficiently. This will help you meet deadlines, deliver quality work, and reduce the need for constant supervision. Ask if priorities or timings aren’t clear. Your manager dearly wants everyone to be able to do their own thing without any intervention but is held responsible by upper management for outcomes and project schedules/profitability.
  9. Be a team player: Collaborate and foster positive relationships with your colleagues. Support your teammates, share knowledge, and contribute to a cooperative and harmonious work environment. Show that you can work well with others and contribute to the overall success of the team.

Managing up is not about manipulation or trying to control your manager. It’s about building a strong working relationship based on trust, effective communication, and mutual respect. By demonstrating your competence, reliability, and commitment, you can effectively manage up, have the trust and proactive support of your manager, and contribute to your professional growth and success.

(This article partially written by ChatGPT!)

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