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Upwards Management – 7 Steps to be successful

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Upwards management is an integral but often overlooked part of leadership. It’s critical that you build a strong trusting relationship with your manager where you are both aligned and working towards the achievement of your manager’s goals. The aim is to achieve a mutually beneficial relationship where they actively support your career, while you help them move towards the vision for the team.

It’s easy to think that it’s your manager’s responsibility for building a constructive relationship with you. However, if you wait for your manager to take the initiative you are very likely to be disappointed. Your manager has a web of complex relationships to maintain and  accountabilities to fulfil on top of looking out for you. They may assume that at your level and experience you should be able to look after yourself. It’s a fact of life that the higher you go in an organisation the less likely you are to have a nurturing manager. You need to be proactive, courageous, and open if you want to develop a constructive relationship. In this article we give you 7 ways in which you can optimise your upwards management.

So what does Upwards Management involve?

1. Share the bad news (and the good news)

Your manager is accountable for your area and they are likely to be asked about issues that arise. If you don’t keep them up to date it can make them look bad if don’t know what is going on. They don’t want to look like they are not in control so don’t sit on an issue, as it can easily become a major one.

Bad news has a tendency to rise, this can distort a manager’s perception of reality. By only hearing what’s going wrong, they may develop a false view of how things are. Make sure you take the time to share the good news. Explain what happened, the outcomes and output and how you or your team contributed. It’s not about boasting it’s about giving an accurate account of what happened.

2. Tell them how you like to be managed

Your manager can get the best out of you if you’re courageous and share more about yourself.  By sharing what motivates you, they can find you assignments or tasks that will engage you. If you feel able to share what stresses you, they can delegate work in a way that doesn’t make you feel overwhelmed. We would encourage to share how they can communicate with you more effectively. Are you big picture or detail orientated? Do you prefer to receive a task, then have some time to consider it and then ask questions or do you prefer to talk it through?

3. Understand their Communication Preferences and Style

Good upwards management is about understanding and accommodating your manager’s preferences in order to avoid misunderstandings.  Ask how they prefer to receive reports, information and updates. Do they prefer to review documents in advance or have a verbal briefing? Would they like it to be structured and brief? This way you can develop an efficient and highly productive meeting

If they are driven by a desire to cut costs, then you should try and cut redundancy in your own area. Also, watch how they behave in meetings and how they react to pressure and try to understand what their stresses are. This will allow you to support them in a professional way and anticipate their requirements.

4. Demonstrate a positive ‘can-do’ attitude

You can become indispensable and build a positive reputation by demonstrating some simple but effective behaviours. Be on time, follow through on your commitments, suggest ideas and innovations, collaborate with your peers to help achieve your manager’s priorities, ask for feedback, be enthusiastic, ask questions when you don’t know the answer and work hard. This will gain you their respect and enable you to have greater influence.

5. Bring solutions to difficult problems

One complaint we consistently hear from managers is that their team members just bring them problems and expect them to solve it for them. So if you have a problem you can’t fix develop a couple of options, communicate the pros and cons of each option and then say which one you would opt for. This demonstrates to your manager that you’re not dependent on them, and they can also start to share their know-how in the process of working through the options together.  

6: Manage their expectations

It’s essential that you know what your manager expects of you. However, clarifying these expectations can be really challenging as typically, only 1/3 of their expectations will be conscious and articulated to you, 1/3 will be conscious but unspoken and 1/3 will be both unspoken and unconscious. It seems unfair that your success is dependent upon meeting these expectations that you may never hear out loud. Therefore, it’s vital that you take the time to dig beneath the surface and find out what they really expect of you.

It has to be two-way, you also need to be clear with them about what you expect of them. If you can do this before you start your role this can remove a lot of the stress and guesswork. If you can’t, make sure it is your primary priority once you’ve started.

Here are some useful questions to ask upfront:

  • What do they expect of you over the next 90 days, one year and three years?
  • How will they know if you have delivered for them? What measures of success matter to them?
  • What do you expect of them? How can they help to support your success?

You should revisit their expectations on an ongoing basis as your role changes and the team’s responsibilities evolve.

7. Understand and support their priorities

You need to take the time to understand and appreciate their priorities. Look for chances to support your manager in work they are doing for their own manager. Ask specifically how you can help. If you’ve followed the previous 6 steps you will know what they find difficult or stressful, so you can offer to support them in these areas. Many direct reports become frustrated at their manager’s weaknesses, seeing this as a deficiency and complaining to their colleagues about it. Instead, you should see this an opportunity to support them in the service of helping the team achieve its goals. This can even lead to you getting more exposure to strategic projects or tasks and communicates that you are there to support them.

Final Word about Upwards Management

Upwards management requires you to adapt your behaviour. However, the more you work at it, the easier it becomes and less time-intensive. By being proactive and taking responsibility for the success of the relationship you can gain respect and start to gain the resources and support your team needs to achieve its goals

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