Every leader is unique, from their leadership style to their personality and preferences. That’s why it can be hard to know what to say or do to have your ideas heard, get noticed, and make an impact at work. However, despite each leader's uniqueness, some universal truths exist about being influential, managing up, and leading your leaders.
First, keep in mind that you will never be able to control your superiors. The only thing you can manage is yourself, and in doing so, it starts with knowing the pitfalls to avoid while trying to influence others. So, to start, let’s explore what managing up means.
What Is Managing Up?
Managing up is intentionally creating the right conditions for a positive and influential working relationship with your superiors. Through a track record of high performance and generally making their job easier, you become a sounding board where your ideas, suggestions, and input is welcomed and actioned.
Navigating this important dynamic should not be taken lightly. Building an authentic, trusting, and productive working relationship with your superiors takes time. But when done well, it can lead to new opportunities, increased professional development, and a fast track to career advancement.
One of the best ways to know what to do is to look at what not to do. With this, we compiled the ten biggest mistakes when meaning up and how to avoid these common pitfalls.
10 Biggest Mistakes When Managing Up and How To Avoid Them
- Act like a know-it-all
- Not learning their vision and goals
- Not building a relationship first
- Not learning their communication style and preferences
- Not understanding the pressures they face
- Coming across as you’re gunning for their job
- Unwillingness to receive coaching
- Not showing initiative
- Thinking they’re open to change
- Pushing your agenda too aggressively
1. Act Like a Know-It-All
Confidence is great, but approaching your boss with an air that you know better than them is a quick way to get your ideas ignored. Instead, take the approach of wanting to learn from them, and through building a relationship, when the opportunity is right, pass along your suggestions.
2. Not Learning Their Vision and Goals
To be a trustworthy source of help and insight for your leader requires understanding their vision and goals. Your efforts will fall flat if there is a misalignment between what you think is the direction you’re going and what your boss is actually trying to achieve. So before jumping in and trying to add value, take the time to understand where your leader is trying to go.
3. Not Building a Relationship First
Trusting, respectful, and productive relationships between a boss and an employee are the foundation of success. Yet, when you’re new to a team or have a new boss, you may feel pressured to try to look impressive by pushing your perspective. However, this is a mistake if your goal is to manage up. Instead, take the time to get to know your leader personally and what they value. Doing so will go a long way in building the healthy relationship that is needed for managing up.
4. Not Learning Their Communication Styles and Preferences
It takes time to learn how your manager prefers to communicate, and going outside of their style may leave them annoyed. For example, you may think you’re managing up by providing frequent updates via instant messenger. However, they would prefer weekly updates to be delivered in your scheduled one-on-one meetings. To avoid this and ensure your upward communication is effective, pay close attention to your leader's preferences and tailor your approach as such.
5. Not Understanding The Pressure They Face
While something may be important to you, given a manager's pressures, it may not even be on their radar. To manage up effectively requires understanding and having empathy for the challenges your manager faces and the realities of their role. Empathy is often talked about from the standpoint of a leader providing it to employees, as it has been found to build relationships and lead to stronger performance. Yet, reciprocally, employees showing empathy to their leader can also have a similar impact.
6. Coming Across as You’re Gunning for Their Job
While you may have good intentions, if you’re too aggressive or vocal about what’s wrong or where you should be going as a team, you may come across as if you believe you should be the leader. As you can imagine, that sort of perception won’t land you as a trusted advisor in the eyes of your leader. Instead, to build an influential relationship, focus on listening, learning, and when the time is right, provide feedback in a way that feels like it is adding value, not criticizing their performance.
7. Unwillingness to Receive Coaching and Feedback
If you’re not coachable or willing to take their feedback, it will signal you are not open to developing and growing your career. Showing confidence in your boss’s abilities and demonstrating there is something you can learn from them is part of managing up. So be open to their coaching and feedback, and take it one step further by actively seeking their input and option on your performance.
8. Not Showing Initiative
You're not making your leader's job easier if you wait to be told or require every task to be laid out in a step-by-step order before starting. Being a self-starter establishes you as a valuable team member at work. It demonstrates your commitment to the team’s success by doing more than what’s expected, being proactive, and making decisions to ensure the outcome is achieved.
9. Thinking Your Boss is Open to Change
A pitfall many ambitious professionals make is assuming their leader is as open to change as they are. In my experience, they are generally not. For change to happen, it requires building a level of trust where they respect your opinion and ideas. That’s why approaching your boss with a robust change plan may derail what you’re trying to accomplish. Instead, take the approach of relationship building and small incremental changes to ensure you’re adding value according to their comfort level and timeline.
10. Pushing Your Agenda Too Aggressively
Much like a mosquito that won’t leave you alone, having an employee pushing their agenda at every opportunity begins to feel the same. If you’re too aggressive with your plan, whether it is implementing an idea or securing funding for a project, you run the risk of becoming a distraction and annoyance for your leader.
However, this doesn’t mean you should avoid bringing up what you’d like to discuss. Rather, before you do so, read the room for their verbal and non-verbal cues. If it doesn’t seem like the time, then drop it and remind yourself that just because it is important to you doesn’t mean it is important to them now.