In the workplace, we assume managers manage and workers work, but in the real world things are rarely that straightforward.
Think about all the people you know who have progressed far in their careers. In all likelihood, they have known how to work the system and manage their bosses.
“You don’t have to like or admire your boss, nor do you have to hate him. You do have to manage him, however, so that he becomes your resource for achievement, accomplishment and personal success,” he writes.
The success of that relationship, Drucker says, is your responsibility. And whether your boss is a good manager or an appalling one, they are there to help you launch your career. Drucker also provides two other bits of advice for managing upward. First, be mindful that nobody likes surprises—especially the boss, so you need to keep them in the loop. And second (and this is probably the most important), you might think they’re stupid, but there is no harm in overrating their ability.
Finally, if your boss is a reader, give him or her reports in writing. If they’re more a listener, talk to them instead.
In one of the most often quoted pieces published in the Harvard Business Review, John Gabarro and John Kotter say it’s not only about knowing all about your boss but also having a very clear understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses and personal style.
"The boss is only one-half of the relationship,'' they write. "You are the other half, as well as the part over which you have more direct control. Developing an effective working relationship requires, then, that you know your own needs, strengths and weaknesses, and personal style. You are not going to change either your basic personality structure or that of your boss. But you can become aware of what it is about you that impedes or facilitates working with your boss and, with that awareness, take actions that make the relationship more effective."
Just say, for example, you and your boss run into problems when you disagree. The boss hardens his or her position, and you raise the ante. When that happens, the falling-out can become toxic and, at worst, career-limiting. Now let's say you become aware of your own impatience. So you might suggest taking a break and discussing it again later. When you come back, you have both given it some thought and you find that you are both heading, more or less, in the same direction. The relationship has changed.
Alison Green at US News & World Report suggests several strategies. One of these is to pay attention to the kind of things your manager asks or talks about so you have a better understanding of where they are coming from. You can also make your boss’s job easy by suggesting solutions and focusing only on the things you can control.
If you want to speak up when you’re unhappy, she says, do it at the right time, not when the boss is under the pump or feeling frazzled. She reminds us not to forget the boss is human, with all the vulnerabilities and moments of grouchiness. And she says we should listen to feedback with an open mind without getting defensive. That means we also need to learn how to handle criticism, without getting emotional and, at the same time, taking it on board in your own terms. And finally make sure your boss only has to ask you to do things once so they know you can be relied upon.
Jenna Goudreau at Forbes presents five tricks to manage your manager. The most important of these is to try to understand them and see the world from their perspective. She says you should try to stay three steps ahead so that you can anticipate their needs, and be the better half so you can complement their weaknesses with your strengths. This means if they are visionary but disorganised, you can keep everything together, and if they have terrific ideas but are vague on detail, you become the one who communicates clearly.
She also recommends you speak up for yourself and ask for more responsibility or offer to head up initiatives while making sure you avoid the kind of conversation where they might feel attacked.
Still, you can take it too far. As Steve Tobak points out in BNet, you shouldn’t try to manage their expectations, tell them what you think they want to hear, make excuses, try to get too chummy or make everything about you. Don’t forget, your boss has got to where they are by playing the right political games so it is likely they would see right through you.
In the end, managing upwards is not about manipulation or sucking up, but making sure you do the best job, not only for yourself but for your boss and company.
Most of us don't realise how much our boss depends on us. It's a mutually dependent relationship, so it's about knowing about where your boss is coming from and understanding your own strengths and weakness so that you can adjust them accordingly. It also means being prepared to get feedback and respond to it, if necessary, in your own terms.
What sort of methods do you use to manage your boss?