No topic is more neglected in the vast management literature than this: how to manage upwards. Yet it is essential for any employed person to know how to do it. Mostly we will tend to go to two undesirable extremes: assuming the boss is an idiot and avoiding him or her as far as possible or else engaging in florid toadying. Here are five hints about how to do it better, all of which I have seen work reliably for my coaching clients
- Stop being deferential. This doesn’t mean being rude, in fact it is essential to be respectful. But if you see yourself as an underling you will be giving away your power and powerless people keep their heads down, and then their belief in their lack of influence quickly becomes a reality. Instead, put yourself mentally on an equal footing, remembering the possibility that boss needs you more than you need him or her. In fact as bosses become more remote from the hands-on business of the organization, it is likely that you will have valuable expertise that your boss lacks and needs.
- Take an interest in your boss’s non-work life. The more senior a boss is, the more likely they are to feel lonely and unappreciated. Many of my most senior coaching clients are mournful about their isolation at work. It is amazing how often people do not know where a boss lives, what the names and ages of their children are, or what hobbies and non-work passions a boss has. Ask. The answers may surprise you.
- Make giving and getting a reciprocal experience. When people are equal partners there is give and take and it is done generously without patronizing, fawning or expecting favours in return – though just giving makes a return favour more likely. Could you invite a boss to a party? Offer a valued introduction? Lend a book? Recommend a useful internet link? Offer a mini training session on a new piece of software?
- Express interest in their problems and dilemmas. Can a more junior person coach a more senior one? Certainly, if you know how to ask the right questions.
- Disagreement is not disloyalty. Many bosses, especially those who like control – which is almost all of them – can continue merrily on the wrong path, later commenting bitterly that no one ever queried their plans. The secret here is to agree while disagreeing. If you agree with the overall aim say so and say it firmly and clearly. Then and only then offer comments on how the boss is proposing to get there. Disagree on the means, not the ends.