Managing up: A necessary evil

Sara Knapp

Post by Sara Knapp, Executive Coach

News flash: Bosses are people, too. 

Unfortunately, we underlings tend to put them on a pedestal, often without realizing it. We assume that they have all the skills, knowledge and authority we want or need them to have. 

So when our bosses behave poorly by failing to provide the support, acknowledgement, or coaching we need from them, we make assumptions. We assume they are cold, self-centered egomaniacs, or they are out to get us. Or both. 

The reality is that when bosses behave badly its generally because they are a) overwhelmed themselves; b) unaware of what you need and/or want to be successful or c) lacking the skills, knowledge or authority to meet your needs. 

So what to do? 

First, let go of the belief that your boss should be all knowing and all-powerful. Or that they should be able to provide you what you need, when you need it, without you having to ask for it. And get over the fact that it’s disappointing and unfair that they aren’t more perfect. Move on. Recognize them as the fallible people that they are. 

Second, communicate, communicate, and then communicate some more. Your boss isn’t a mind reader. If you aren’t sure what’s expected of you, ask. If you need more coaching, or resources, or training, ask. If there’s a train wreck on its way, then make sure your boss knows about it. Don’t assume they know. Rather, assume they don’t. 

And then finally, if your boss isn’t able or willing to give you what you need to succeed in your role, take matters into your own hands. Invest your own time and money in developing the skills you need to be successful. Ask others inside, and outside, of the organization to mentor you. And also learn to say “no” in a way that is respectful of others, yet effective in managing your workload to a level that you can effectively deliver on. 

While to some the above might seem counterintuitive to those already fast-tracking their way up the career ladder, they know managing up is critical to their success.