Managing up best practices and common mistakes

Marlo Oster
April 6, 2021
5
Minutes

The relationship you have with your manager is arguably the most important one you have in the workplace at any given time. Managing up can strengthen that relationship to help you move forward in your career. Managing up includes adapting to your manager’s communication style, offering feedback if it’s requested, and being proactive in your job.

There are many different kinds of managers, and not all of them excel in their role. There are managers who lack organization, are indecisive, are shy, or some that are just plain rude. That said, they’re still your boss, and you’ve got to develop a healthy working relationship with them if you’re going to succeed in your career.


In this post, we’ll cover the importance of managing up, including when you should manage up, best practices, and common managing up mistakes.

What is managing up?

Managing up requires many of the same soft skills it takes to manage others, such as empathy, emotional intelligence, enthusiasm, honesty, and clear communication.


Managing up is all about making your manager’s job easier and yourself invaluable by anticipating your manager’s needs, understanding their communication preferences, and knowing what makes them tick. Managing up is how you manage your manager.

It’s not about stepping on your manager’s toes or taking over their job. Managing up is a win-win situation for both of you. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your skills and aptitude for the job while offering your manager the reliable and effective support they sorely need. It’s a chance to learn both what your boss does right and wrong and hone your own managerial skills for the eventual day that you become a manager.

The importance of the employee-manager relationship

The relationship you have with your manager is the most important one you have at work. If your manager doesn’t like you and doesn’t have faith in your abilities, you’ll have difficulties progressing in your career. And more than that, your motivation and enthusiasm for the work will lag, productivity will stall, and you’ll dread heading into work every day.


A good employee-manager relationship has just the opposite effect. When you get along with your manager, work tasks are less of a chore, you feel more engaged and confident in your job, and you can have faith that your boss will support you if you need it.


A healthy employee-manager relationship is built on trust and honest communication, mutual respect and support, and continuous feedback.


📚 Learn more in our article Constructive Feedback: The Ultimate Guide to Giving Feedback.


When should you manage up?

Managing up isn’t sucking up or being a yes man for your boss, and it’s not about alienating your fellow team members. Managing up is taking initiative and not waiting to be told what to do and when. It’s being proactive about projects and contributing to the agenda throughout the week, not just right before or during your weekly meeting.


The ideal space to manage up is during a one on one meeting. One on ones are opportunities to build rapport with your manager, receive and give constructive feedback, share goals and keep each other accountable, and address any other concerns or issues. They’re a set time for a manager to offer support and encouragement to an employee, but managers are human beings too. A one on one meeting is when you can privately offer assistance or maybe just let your boss vent if they need it.

Managing up best practices

Make the most of one on ones with managers

One on one meetings are key to your future career success and the ideal time to manage up. But only if you give the meetings the respect they deserve.


Before your scheduled one on one, take some time to reflect on the events of your previous meeting. Look over any notes you took, and use the time to focus on being mindful. Are there any goals you previously expressed that your manager could follow up with you about? Have you made progress? Did your manager mention anything that was causing them stress? Do you have any insight you could share, or if possible, have you taken any action over the past week to help alleviate that stress?


During the meeting, make sure your phone is on silent, or better yet, leave it at your desk. Now is the time to actively listen and take notes with a pen and paper. The most important thing is that you’re present in the moment. This is why preparation beforehand is key. Listen to what your manager has to say, offer honest advice if they ask for it, and ask for feedback.


After the meeting, take a few moments to reflect and add more detail to your notes. Consider how you can implement the feedback you received moving forward.

📚 Learn more in our article Better One on One Meetings: An Employee’s Guide for Career Growth

Build rapport with your manager

Rapport is a friendly connection between two people, and the simplest way to create it is through finding common ground. Does your manager share any of your interests outside of work? Do they enjoy a particular television show, follow a sports team, hit the gym, or like to cook? Even if you don’t share the interest, remembering it and asking about it builds rapport.


You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Building a friendly connection with your manager is vital to managing up, as your manager needs to feel comfortable around you if they’re going to communicate freely. They need to trust you, and the best place to start is building rapport.


📚 Learn more about Building Rapport in One on One Meetings.

Adjust your communication style

Figure out how your manager prefers to communicate and adjust accordingly. Are they shy, direct, enthusiastic, assertive, or bubbly?


For example, some people prefer you get straight to the point, while others like to start with a little small talk to ease into important work conversations. Do they seem happy that you asked them what they did on the weekend, or are they more private about their personal life?


People will generally make their communication preferences known quickly, either on purpose or involuntarily through their body language. Pay close attention and adjust as needed. If they like small talk, come prepared with questions and an anecdote of your own. If they don’t, get straight to business. People communicate better with someone who shares their preferences.


Consider the medium they prefer for communication. Are they always calling you after you send an email? Do they prefer a Slack message, a text message, an email, or a phone call? Get to know their communication preferences so that you’re always making the most of any touchpoint.

Focus on doing your own job well

Don’t get too caught up in managing up that you forget about your own duties and obligations. The best way to effectively manage up is by proactively completing your tasks to the best of your ability. It’s important for your manager to like you, but even more important that they have confidence in your abilities. They need to know they can rely on you.


Focus on how you can succeed in your job and how you can go above and beyond in your role. What are your goals? How do you plan on attaining them? How do your goals align with your manager’s goals and the company’s goals as a whole?


Consider James Bond and his boss M. 007 isn’t M’s favorite agent because he buys her coffee every day; he’s her go-to agent because he’s effective at his job.

Common managing up mistakes

  • Not respecting your manager's legitimate authority over you.

  • Obsessing over your manager’s weaknesses and quirks.

  • Using mind games or manipulation to try to get what you want.

  • Failing to adjust your communication style from one manager to the next.

  • Overstepping and taking over your manager's role.

  • Offering too much advice when it wasn’t asked for.

  • Failing to learn from your manager’s experience in the industry.

  • Saying “Yes” to absolutely everything your manager says, even if you disagree.

  • Not being honest about your own mistakes and shortcomings.


Managing up with WorkPatterns

Use WorkPatterns in your one on one meetings for transparent collaboration and intentional goal-setting.


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