I once thought the idea of managing up sounded manipulative and was only needed if a manager is completely incompetent. But after working with 100s of leaders I know this isn’t true.
Done correctly and with these techniques it can make for a really productive working relationship.
Let’s breakdown what it means to get it right.
#1 Offer solutions, not problems
It can be tempting to go straight to the issue.
🚫 “We never have 121s, and when we do we get stuck in the weeds.”
✅ “Can I schedule us regular 121s so I can update you on what I’ve been doing with my team. I can suggest an agenda to get us started if you like.”
This shows you’re proactive and solution-oriented. Unfortunately, many managers haven’t got the first idea about what should happen during a 121 – so help them out.
#2 Make requests, not complaints
You feel burnout creeping on. Try to make a request before it goes too far.
🚫 “I can’t keep doing this. I’m exhausted.”
✅ ”Now we’ve got that deadline behind us I’d like to take a few days off to reset. Are these dates any good?”
This shows you’re self-aware and looking after your mental health before there is a potential avoidable problem.
#3 Keep your boss in the loop
🚫 I hate being micro-managed. Maybe if I work from home I’ll be able to just get stuff done.
✅ ”Let’s agree how I’ll update you on my progress. I want to make sure you don’t feel in the dark and like you need to check in more than is useful to either of us.”
Agree to an update cadence for each project you’re working ahead of time. It might be daily or weekly depending on the project’s scope. This will prevent the risk of being micromanaged.
#4 Invite feedback
🚫 “I’m sure she’ll let me know if things aren’t great.”
✅ ”I’d value your feedback on how I’m doing on this project. I’ve been working on improving how I chair the weekly meetings. It would be great to hear what you think whenever you’re in them.”
If you’re worth your salt, you will want to be getting more feedback. The truth is your manager probably dreads it because they only know the feedback/shit sandwich technique. Ask for feedback on something specific – and role model how to do it well by sharing positive feedback with them.
Here’s a model to share with your boss:
What? I came away from our recent 121 feeling positive and clear about what you need from the team.
So What? It meant I could look at who is in what role and make some important decisions about resourcing.
No What? I’d like us to include team structure on our next 121 agenda.
And if you’re the boss.
Maybe you’re wondering what it’s like to be managed by you. 😬 This is a great first step.
Next step is to ask your team for specific feedback and consider this:
How can I make it easier for my team to manage up?