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Eight Ways to Manage Up Effectively

When your boss is a problem

A recent Gallup poll of more one million employed U.S. workers showed that the No. 1 reason people quit their jobs is a bad boss or immediate supervisor. And, according to the website, “People leave managers not the end, turnover is mostly a manager issue,” Gallup wrote in its survey findings. The effect of poor management is widely felt. Gallup also determined that poorly managed work groups are, on average, 50 percent less productive and 44 percent less profitable than well-managed groups.

Why isn’t this a surprise? In my consulting and coaching work with employees, in too many cases we end up spending much of our time working on “managing up”. Often times the boss is difficult: The boss is a bully, or a poor communicator. Sometimes the boss is disorganized and blames their employee for any ensuing problems as a result.

Unfortunately for most of us, we have, or will have at some point, a difficult boss. Instead of leaping to another job hoping that the next one will be better, it’s important to develop “managing up” skills. The more you learn to manage up, the more successful you will be wherever you are and whatever you are doing.

Here are eight tips for managing your boss, without the boss knowing you are doing it!

  1. Observe your boss’ behavioral and communication style. Are they fast-paced, and fast to make decisions? Are they slow to think about things and want time to process? The more you can match style to your boss when communicating, the more they will really hear what you are saying. You may have great information to convey, but if you don’t convey it in a way that your boss can really hear, it will fall on his or her deaf ears.
  2. Think about the “what’s in it for me?” for your boss each time you approach them. What do they care about? What do you know about the view from their seat? Can you frame comments in a way that makes them feel what you are proposing, or doing, is good for them? Many senior people have told me they wish their staff understood more about the complexities they deal with, and the issues coming down on them. Put yourself in their shoes a bit before you ask them to understand you!
  3. Be a proactive communicator. Find out your boss’ preferred method – email, in person drop-ins, or lengthy memos – and be sure to pass along information. Most bosses don’t like to be caught unaware. Even if your boss doesn’t ask it of you, tell them what’s going on; keep them updated. Most senior people like to know what’s going on – and if your boss is a micro-manager type, the more outgoing information you can convey, the less they will ask you about what’s happening.
  4. Help to support their weaknesses. If you know you have a boss who is disorganized, instead of grousing about it, help them to be on top of things. If you know your boss is often late to meetings, offer to kick off the next meeting for them. If you know your boss is slow to respond, continue to work on a project while you wait to hear back from them. Will you be covering for your boss and enabling bad behavior? Maybe, but you are also giving them much-needed support to succeed and they will appreciate you for it.
  5. Do the best job you can do. Too many times people will start to slack off, or lose interest or stop performing well because they feel entitled to do that with a bad boss. Don’t do it. Keep your mind focused on top performance. Most people do desire a good relationship with their boss, but if you don’t have one, invest the time and energy you have into doing the best job you can do. Don’t let the boss drag you down.
  6. Keep a good attitude. Go home and complain to your spouse or friends all you want, but when in the office or workplace, stay upbeat and engaged. You never know who is watching or listening. Don’t get caught bad-mouthing your boss. It never goes well.
  7. Remember that bullies get their power from those who are afraid. If your boss is a yeller, a criticizer or a judge – stand firm. If you are doing the best job you can do, keep your head held high and don’t give in to the bullying. Ask questions, seek to understand and work to defuse a difficult situation, instead of cowering or responding in anger. It takes practice but the results are well worth it.
  8. And, very importantly – know where your boss stands in the company. If your boss is well regarded and well liked, they probably do a very good job of managing up, too. As a result, you will be considered the “problem” if you complain about him or her. If you decide you want to take action against your boss, weigh your options carefully before you do.