Having a dream boss is like winning the lottery. It’s a bit of hit and miss, and it’s the luck of the draw who lands up as your next manager. Since you can’t control who you work for, managing up can be extremely difficult and tricky when you don’t know the right approach.
No one’s perfect. You’re reporting up to a boss who is a flawed human being. Just like the rest of us. He, or she, has leadership quirks and behaviours, some of which, at best, may not sit well with you. At worse, he’s adding to your stress and hindering your effectiveness. Either way, knowing how to crack the code will help you develop more productive relationships, even with difficult managers; while making your life a little easier.
In the book Influence Without Authority, the authors suggest that we adopt a fundamental shift in thinking about boss-subordinate relationships to more of a partnership. Our role or value as a ‘partner’ to our boss includes not letting them look bad, make huge mistakes, or lack critical information that will help them make the right decisions. I think this is brilliant. No matter how difficult you perceive your boss to be, you have to change your attitude towards your relationship to be effective at managing up.
While there are some truly bad managers who intentionally sabotage their employees, in general, most bosses have good intentions. I don’t know of a single manager who doesn’t appreciate having a team member who has their back. To do this, you must first understand your manager’s world – what he values, what he needs from you, his preferred working style and how his performance is measured. Know this, and you will increase your influence with your boss.
Even so, that might not be enough. It can be particularly challenging when you’re working with a boss who has little or zero self-awareness. This HBR article by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic has some useful tips. I particularly love the suggestion of developing strategies to cope with your manager’s problematic tendencies. If you can find ways to mitigate your manager’s negative behaviours so that you can both succeed, imagine how much your boss will value you as an asset and a partner!
You can’t choose who you report to. But you can choose how you approach this problem. And that, in the end, is the essence of what managing up is all about.