Managing Up: You Have a Role in Making This Relationship Work

In this next installment in “Everyday Leadership with GHPOD II”, Katie Hortenstine and Andrea Brazell have some real talk for us, asking us to consider the realities and opportunities of “managing up.”

What does personal leadership look like for you, whether you call it managing up or something else? Tell us your story in the comments.

Illustration by Zeyna Anderson


“Managing up” – “leading up” – “leveraging your influence”: these are all terms you hear thrown around in business journals these days. They mostly focus on how to deal with “difficult bosses” or how to get noticed and promoted. Whatever the term, the real premise should be about creating a more positive work environment for yourself and the rest of your team. Instead of trying to manipulate your boss, managing up is about finding a way to complement your manager’s working style to bring about a more efficient working relationship.

Escaping the Victim Mentality

Automatically labeling a supervisor as a “bad boss” is a little shortsighted. They might have outstanding technical skills, and they’ve certainly worked very hard to get to the position they’re in, but they have no real knowledge or training on how to manage people.

We need to escape the victim mentality—the idea that a supervisor is out to get us and there isn’t anything we can do to change the situation. They might be overwhelmed and under a lot of pressure, they might be new at managing people, or they might not yet have the interpersonal skills for deeper self-awareness. In many cases, it comes down to different working styles and different personalities that are causing the friction and conflict. It’s important to keep these things in mind, have some grace, and not immediately make it all about you.

Do Your Job Well and Gain Their Trust

One of the most important things you can do in a situation with a difficult boss is to simply do your job well. The more proficient you are, the better the situation will be. You might also find that your boss starts to trust you more. All managers need help, and even if you don’t get all of the affirmations you’d like to hear, being trusted with more work will be good for your professional development and the longevity of your career with the organization. You might also see less micro-management, leading to a decrease in stress for both of you—and less stress is never a bad thing!

Learn Your Boss’s Strengths and Working Style, and Respect Their Time

As you earn your supervisor’s trust, it is important to also be aware of their preferences, idiosyncrasies, and the things you know tend to annoy them. If you have an incredibly busy supervisor, keep your emails as succinct as possible. If they don’t like to be bothered during a certain time of day, make a note of that. Learning your boss’s working style could make a world of difference in your relationship, and ultimately your happiness in your position.

Bosses are human beings, after all. Having an objective view of your supervisor’s strengths and skills will help you understand how you can help keep your team running smoothly.

Manage “Up” the Way You Want to Be Managed “Down”

To get started in managing up, think about one or two things your boss could do to make your work-life a little easier. If you’d like more written communication, try sending them email confirmations after impromptu hallway (or virtual) conversations when they’ve asked you to add a new task (keeping this to larger tasks, and not being petty, of course). Over time, you might find your supervisor using your preferred method of communication more often.

Most bosses will appreciate it when you’re assertive in these ways, especially when they’re feeling overwhelmed; it’s one less thing for them to think about, too. Think of this as managing “up” the way you want them to manage “down.” Put another way, it’s like the adage you might have learned in kindergarten: treat others the way you want to be treated