As if you didn’t already know, but your relationship with your boss is one of the things that most impact your satisfaction – and your career prospects, writes Rebecca Houghton.
Bad bosses are the stuff of legend, aren’t they? Keas.com found that 77 per cent of employees experienced physical symptoms of stress from bad bosses. But being “a boss” implies that there’s a relationship – to you, their direct report – which means there’s more than one of you on the hook here.
There are a million books on how to be a great boss (aka how to manage others), and relatively few on how to be a great direct report (or how to manage up).
Most of us dislike the term “managing up” intensely; for many of us it conjures up images of greasy-pole climbers and upwardly mobile politico types. Most of us don't like to think of ourselves in this way, so we shy away from taking action in this space.
This is a mistake. Managing up is important on every level – enhancing your day-to-day performance, removing roadblocks for your team, improving your relationship and influence, and increasing your perceived value and eventually, seniority.
Managing up doesn’t mean sucking up.
The three “managing up” moments to master are 1:1s, elevator pitch and executive briefings.
The elevator pitch
A nightmare for most leaders is being alone in the lift with the chief executive who says “how’s it going?”.
Let’s keep this simple but powerful – no CEO wants the long-winded version upfront. If they are interested they will ask questions.
● Done: biggest recent achievement based on business impact
● Doing: your current curly problem – higher order enough that might be on their radar
● To-do: what’s next on the horizon
The executive brief
Getting it right with busy executives, especially those who don’t know you well, needs structure. Getting it wrong makes you look unplanned, uncertain or unclear – none of which are promotable traits!
● Purpose: What is this conversation for? To inform, sign off, consult or negotiate on what topic?
● Product: What outcome do you seek – don’t make them guess.
● People: Who is involved in this, so they determine the influencing landscape.
● Process: What commitment should they plan for? Is this a short or long conversation, a one-off meeting, or going to lead to a repeat commitment such as a board or committee?
● Preparation: What might your exec need to prepare ahead of this conversation, so that you – and they – get the most out of your time together.
1:1s with your direct boss
This relationship is crucial to you and to your team. Try to treat this relationship with the following mindset:
1. I need this: my relationship with my boss is key to my success (and that of my team).
2. This relationship is two-way; we both need something from each other and we both contribute strengths and weaknesses to the mix.
3. He/she has a lot on their mind, and a lot of competition for their time, so I need to get smart about how I use my slice of it.
To balance your relationship with your leader, giving both of you what you need, I recommend you approach your regular catch-ups with the following model in mind:
● Ask them for their help – specifically on the things that are outside your sphere of control or you are struggling to influence quickly.
● Tell them what they need to know – contrary to most inner voices, flagging risks (and mitigants) early and often does not make you look bad, it actually makes you look good. A nasty surprise, on the other hand, is hard to forgive because it makes THEM look bad.
● Ask them what they need – even at C-suite, the upward management never stops, so actively play your role – it benefits both of you, and will reflect well on your team too.
Managing up doesn’t have to mean sucking up. The key reason many of us don’t do it is because we think it’s self-serving – when in fact it’s in service of your team, your peers, and your organisation. Your ability to leverage your leaders as an asset will massively lift your organisational impact – which is better for everyone.
Rebecca Houghton is the author of “Impact: 10 Ways to Level up your Leadership”. She is a leadership and talent expert and founder of BoldHR.