Should you manage up or down?

Group At A Meeting

What’s your management style? Would you say that you are more inclined to cater to your boss, do you spend more time working with your direct reports, or do you fall somewhere in the middle?

Managing Up: Managing your boss, or managing up, is necessary in order to understand what is expected of you, what the company’s goals are, and how your team fits into them.

Managing Down: Managing your direct reports, or managing down, is necessary in order to convey to your team exactly what needs to be done to ensure the successful completion of assigned projects.

Doing only one or the other will inevitably leave someone in the lurch. Either your employees won’t feel as though you have their backs, or your boss will question your loyalty and dedication to your position. So, aim for a middle of the road approach that creates a win-win situation where everyone gets what they need. Here are a few guidelines to consider.

Managing Up – What to Do

  • Find out what “language” your boss speaks. Does she prefer to have things in writing, or communicate in person? Is she detail-oriented, wanting to know every single thing that’s going on in your department, or does she favor the bigger picture view? If you want to communicate ideas that you hope she’ll consider, then meet her on her level, and help her succeed while supporting your goals and the overall success of the organization.
  • Your boss may throw a whole mess of projects into your lap and expect you to triage. Don’t be afraid to ask how he ranks his priorities. Without a solid handle on company objectives, you won’t be able to take adequate instruction back to your department, impeding your ability to be a good leader.
  • Know your boss’s strengths and weaknesses, and find a balance between her skillset and your own. That way, you will be able to adapt your performance to compensate for any shortcomings in hers. Gaining this perspective will make for a stronger partnership.
  • Bring new ideas to your boss and show your commitment to the company’s success. Be proactive about generating concepts or programs that people will love, and honor your team’s achievements by making your boss aware of projects and tasks that are doing well. It will not only highlight your group’s achievements, but it will highlight your leadership skills.
  • Monitor your department closely, try to identify holes in procedures, and patch them before they reach your boss. Management doesn’t want to hear about problems – they want to hear about solutions. So if you present a problem to your boss, then simultaneously present your best ideas for how to fix that problem.
  • When problems arise that can’t be easily resolved, and they will, be honest about them. Don’t try to cover things up or sweep an issue under the rug. At the end of the day, your boss is in this with you because you are working towards the same goals. Honesty builds trust, and if nothing else, at least be trustworthy.

Managing Down – What to Do

  • Communicate your objectives and your boss’s objectives well at every turn. Don’t be wishy-washy. Be direct and clear with your direct reports. Expect that not everyone will be on board with what needs to be done, but don’t let that dissuade you from doing your job.
  • If your team comes to you with problems, encourage them to brainstorm ideas about how to fix those problems rather than putting it all on your shoulders. Giving them the opportunity to troubleshoot unexpected issues teaches self-sufficiency.
  • Have an open door policy. Be confident in your team’s skills and let them know you are there if they need you, but give them the autonomy to do what they do best without micromanaging them. Listen to them, ask their opinion on things, and show them they are valued.
  • Encourage your team to bring you their ideas. If you show employees how confident you are in their talents, they’ll have more confidence in themselves. When your team feels good about what they are doing, productivity will increase, and morale will skyrocket.
  • Recognize the hard work and dedication of your team members, and acknowledges when they have done a particularly good job completing a project or developing new ways to keep things flowing smoothly. Everyone wants to be validated, and a little goes a long way.

Finding the balance between managing up and managing down keeps your work on track and secures your relationship with both the higher-ups and your department employees. Analyze the results of your efforts to determine what’s working and what isn’t, and accept that you may only make people happy 80% of the time (that includes your boss). You’ll know you’re hitting the mark more often than not if your team goes above and beyond the call of duty to make you proud.

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