Often, as leaders, we get wrapped up in day-to-day problems and leading our own team. We sometimes forget how important managing up is. We need to build strong relationships with our boss and our boss’s boss in order to lead effectively.
Effective leaders do more than just manage their team. They build strong working relationships their leadership up the chain. Managing up isn’t just about getting the boss to accept our proposals. We need to build trust that we will act in the best interest of the organization.
When I was a young Air Force Captain, I was working on a project and had to go see the Wing Commander. I had put together a few options but wasn’t really sure which one to choose. I went to the meeting and asked him what he wanted to do. He looked at me and said, “Jason I’m a Colonel, you’re a captain. You’re the project officer. Figure it out.” He then explained that he wasn’t trying to be harsh, but rather that he trusted me. As the expert, I should be recommending to him what the best alternative is. That experience taught me what managing up is all about. Bring solutions to the boss instead of just bringing problems or questions.
Managing Up Tip #1 – Bring Solutions, Not Problems
Effective leaders will go to the boss and present the problem, their thought process and their preferred solution along with several alternatives. Go to your boss with some solutions in mind. Don’t just bring more problems. The boss already has plenty of problems on his plate, we don’t need to bring him more. You show initiative by providing several solutions and build trust by showing that you have the best interests organization at heart.
Managing Up Tip #2 – Solve Your Boss’s Problems
Don’t just solve your own problems. Solve your boss’s problems. When you talk to the boss about a problem and how you’re going to solve it, think about the way your boss thinks about it. Consider their concerns they have across all of the groups they manage, not just your team. Also, be aware of the requirements that are placed on your boss from above. If you can solve your boss’s problems they know they have one, you’re effectively managing up. Your boss is going to trust you and see that you have that initiative to accomplish the mission and do what’s right for the organization.
Managing Up Tip #3 – The One Challenge Rule
What if your boss completely shuts you down on the solution you presented? That happens sometimes and we need to deal with it tactfully. In this case, you can use the one challenge rule to effectively manage up. You don’t want to argue with your boss over the right thing to do. After the decision, if you believe they are making a mistake, take one opportunity to say so. Lay out your case respectfully and calmly in a logical way. The boss may change their mind or decide to go with the original decision. Either way, you made your case and the boss will respect that you tried to do the right thing for the organization. Once the decision is made, go execute according to the boss’s guidance even if you didn’t get your way.
Next time you’re getting ready to pitch one of your ideas to your boss even further up the chain, think about these three tips before you go into the meeting. Remember, we’re trying to build a strong working relationship with our boss and all of the leaders in our organization. We want to build trust by showing them that we’re focused on our mission as well as what’s in the best interest of the organization.