Last week, Jenny shared some of the nicest words about our working relationship. I sincerely value Jenny for her innate sense of responsibility and eagerness to be a “genuine source of help.” The hidden key to an effective organization is a staff that can manage up. But what does that even mean?
The best piece of practical advice I received while earning my Masters in Public Administration was “always make your boss look good.” In unpacking this golden rule, I came to realize that if you are seeking agency and influence in your organization, you must earn trust. I have spent much of my career since nearly perfecting (according to Peter Nicholson) the art of managing my manager or, as they say, managing up.
Today, when onboarding interns and new staff, I always start by sharing a list of essential tips for managing up. Here are a few highlights from that list:
1. Communicate often. Communicate more than you think you should, especially early on. Provide regular updates on progress. They will ask you to tone it down if it is too much, but generally speaking more is better than less.
2. Understand what makes them tick. Are they inspired by big picture thinking or practical next steps? Day to day, it is also important to be able to quickly “read the room,” sensing their mood (generative, reflective, down to business, etc.) and energy levels. How can you adjust your demeanor to match or elevate energy, depending on the circumstances?
3. Anticipate their needs. Always look ahead on the calendar. Assume your manager is eternally swamped and ask them how you might help by preparing for an upcoming meeting or event. By maintaining situational awareness, you can make more timely and meaningful contributions.
4. Give them something to respond to. First, quickly understand what format they prefer (digital, hard copy, visual, text, etc.). Then, for every check in, bring something to share and review, even if it is a rough draft. If they like options, bring options, but never present one that you wouldn’t want them to choose.
5. Check in when the direction changes. If you are taking things in a direction that has not been discussed with your manager, stop what you are doing and find time to check in with them. No one likes curve balls.
6. Manage the time you have with them. Take control. It is often the case that you have only a few minutes for check ins, so take responsibility for prioritizing what gets discussed in that time. What unresolved items are prohibiting progress? Tackle those first.