A common agenda when coaching aspiring leads is, “How do I manage my manager?”.  One middle manager commented recently on the inadequacies of their boss.  Painfully aware of this person’s lack of communication skills and apparent inability to think strategically, the perennial question arose as to how to manage upwards.

Before launching into a plan of attack to manage or change anybody else, the fundamental question to address is – Am I standing firmly in my own role to support them to stand firmly in theirs?  If you are rolling your eyes right now and deciding that no-one understands precisely how misplaced your manager is in their own role, then you have surfaced the very thought that may misplace you as well.  Triangulation refers to the career limiting scenario of being the 2IC or confidante to your manager at the expense of your important peer connections.  This manoeuvre has been shown to create a false glass ceiling due to a person being out of place at work and disconnected from those around them, and thereby less likely to be considered for promotion.  If we can avoid any such entanglement, then here are some suggestions to safely manage upwards.

A misguided promotion, a mistaken hiring decision, an anomaly in the time-space continuum or whatever strange twist of fate that may have resulted in your current reporting line; here are some initial keys to consider when attempting to manage upwards:

  • Strengthening the connection: Exerting influence requires a trusting relationship.  How can you relate more fully to connect with your manager and appreciate the bigger context in which they operate?
  • Going above and beyond while remaining grounded: stopping and asking what strategic problems your manager is working to solve ensures any suggestions originate from understanding rather than assumptions.
  • Demonstrating engagement: a common mistake in aspiring to make progress is assuming that doing a job well will increase the chances of promotion, yet research shows that promotions generally require doing more than what you are hired to do. What opportunities are around you to extend yourself and take on additional challenges that can increase the success of your team?
  • Seek performance clarity : outside of the formal performance management process there are windows of opportunity to look in the mirror and understand the identity you have built at work. Finding the opportunity to step away from the day to day and reflect together in a coaching conversation with your manager will allow you to ask how you can improve your performance and thereby your future at work.
  • Contemplating the context: often invisible to direct reports is the complex web of power and influence surrounding a manager.  It can be useful to consider what dynamics at higher layers of the organisation may be thwarting the efforts of your manager to operate strategically.

Is any of this really “managing” upwards or merely managing your own efforts and aspirations?  For the majority of managers, this factual approach may be preferable to the fiction of anyone really being able to manage anyone else, especially upwards!

This article was originally published by Business Woman Media

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