Wednesday, December 16, 2009

4 ways to "manage up"


Many people feel "stuck" these days. They feel powerless as they struggle to do much more work with available resources, and wonder if their career has hit a dead end with this rough economy. I interviewed John Baldoni recently, and he provide a road map of how to get your career un-stuck. Here's the column I did for Gannett:

You may think that management is a one way street: The boss tells you what to do, and you do it. But how would you feel about managing your boss?

While you might believe you’d like to dish out a little payback like some extra work or longer hours, it actually can be an opportunity to help boost your standing within your company and help your career.

Referred to as “managing up,” it’s a strategy that can propel you into the leadership ranks, says John Baldoni.


“This is for people who really want to make good things happen, who want to effect a positive change,” says Baldoni, a leadership consultant and author of “Lead Your Boss” (Amacom, $21.95).

Baldoni says not to worry that with tough economic times you should just hunker down and ride out the recession and not take any chances. He says the career savvy will recognize that companies and bosses are looking for new ideas and creativity – and this is a great opportunity to advance.


Baldoni says that managing up will work for anyone at any level of an organization, as long as you are what he calls “a go-to person.” That means others see you as capable, as someone who has credibility and can get things done. Once you’re seen as credible, then use that to take action, he says.


Baldoni says you should:

1. Come up with an innovative idea that supports the company’s overall mission strategy. If you work for a software company, for example, it doesn’t make much sense to propose buying a chicken farm.

2. “Persuade up” by telling others above you what the outcome will be of your strategy or idea. “Think of the end game. What’s going to happen?” Baldoni says.

3. Focus on how it will help everyone succeed. “You can’t look only at yourself and do this all on your own, or you’ll just be seen as a self-promoter. Let the idea do the talking,” Baldoni says.

Baldoni says it’s often those in the “middle” of an organization who are the true movers and shakers – the ones who “really get things done.”

“They see the problems and want to fix them,” he says. “They know how to lead their own people, so they also can lead those above them.”
Baldoni says anyone who wants to lead the boss must first think like the boss. To do this:
  • Keep an eye to the ground. Know what’s going on in an organization by meeting with those on the front lines and learning of their challenges. Walk the halls, eat in the cafeteria and join employee social gatherings to “pick up the pulse of the organization,” he says. Others will be more willing to share ideas if they see you more often.
  • Ask questions and listen. Be curious about what others are working on and how they’re doing it. Question what customers are thinking and how they’re reacting to the company’s products and services.
  • Reflect. When you receive information, don’t jump to immediate conclusions. Don’t get emotional when tempers fly or people get upset. Instead, stay calm and exert what Baldoni calls “quiet power.”
  • Act decisively. Don’t appear to “dither and dally,” suffering from what he calls “analysis paralysis.”
“Failure to ‘do’ makes people think you are stalling when what you are really doing is weighing the options,” he says. “Reflective assertive leaders deliberate, but they keep people in the loop as they gather information, consider variables and respect timelines.”

Finally, Baldoni says the managing up strategy will not work if you have a bully boss, “because they’ll see it as a threat.” At the same time, if you’re on a low rung of on the organization’s ladder, you may not get credit for your ideas in the beginning. The boss may take credit, but that’s OK. It’s human nature, and your prestige will come by continuing to have successful ideas,” he says.

Have you had success "managing up"?

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5 Comments:

Anonymous Jonathan Begley said...

Great article! I really appreciate the "analysis paralysis" idea. I feel like my organization suffers from this and hope that I will not be caught in the same trap.

December 16, 2009 3:46 PM  
Blogger Anita said...

Thanks, Jonathan...
I think in these worrisome times, we sometimes get frozen in place. Let's hope 2010 lets us all shake off analysis paralysis!

December 16, 2009 3:50 PM  
Anonymous Kareem said...

Great information! I will let my clients in on your little secrets.

December 17, 2009 7:21 PM  
Anonymous Anthony said...

I've had some experience with trying to manage up. In a recent job I was working with a manager who did not like the manager related work. I was able to help him out with the deliverable to his bosses, but also to let them know that I was having some input into them.

December 21, 2009 4:39 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

Anthony,
That's great! Not only did you learn skills that will help you in relating to managers throughout your career, but you also made sure others knew that you had some valuable input.

December 21, 2009 6:51 AM  

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