Remember, many businesses still promote based on a person’s technical skill, rather than their managerial skill. This means that there are a fair amount of managers who might be technically the best fit for the job but are not equipped with the right skills to properly manage their team due to a lack of training or managerial nous. This is where you can step in. Don’t see it as an opportunity to supplant or replace management with someone more suitable though, see it as an opportunity to help them do the best job possible. Don’t work to get the boss you want; work better with the boss you already have.
“Managing up” is a loaded term that brings with it plenty of negative connotations. Instead, you might want to consider referring to the practice as “Leading Up.” Because you’re not trying to manipulate or undermine your boss, you’re guiding them and working alongside them. This ability to work well alongside anyone, regardless of where they stand in the business hierarchy, is a crucial skill that will set you and your team in good stead for the future.
Of course, it’s possible that you might already be responsible for a team beneath you, so adding the responsibilities of those higher up the ladder might seem counterintuitive. However, help them now and they will help you later. Remember, your boss is even more accountable than you are and they should be able to offer you as much guidance as you can offer them. What we’re looking at developing here is a truly complementary relationship.
1. Let Them Set the Goals
Although you should guide their hand if you feel their targets don’t align with the business, the final goal you’re working towards should be their choice. Allow them the space to learn how to lead and lay the foundations for a mutually beneficial relationship. A large part of this is anticipating the needs of your bosses and being more closely attuned with their personal objectives.
2. Develop a Complementary Relationship
Building a relationship with your manager is about building trust; it is the bond that holds everything, and everyone, together. Get to know your leaders outside of work. Learn their strengths and learn when to lean into those strengths, but don’t be afraid to unearth their weaknesses too. This way, you’ll know when and where to apply pressure, and you might actually get on. And it’s that much easier to work for someone (and for them to work with you) if you actually like one another.
3. Ask, Don’t Tell
Sometimes, it can be tempting to noisily step in with our own opinions and solve problems ourselves. However, solving a problem yourself only serves to help yourself, whereas helping those above us come to the same solution (or a better one) presents an opportunity to help a leader grow.
4. Let Them Know When to Use You (and When Not to Use You)
You know your own strengths, but your leadership might not. Just because you’ve taken the time to get to know them, never assume they have done likewise for you. Let them know where your expertise lies so they know when and where to put you in. Also, don’t be afraid to let them know when your expertise is lacking in certain areas and when another team member might be a better option. If the team is feeling rather light, perhaps also drop hints about using a specialist recruitment firm to bulk out the team and bag some necessary talents.
5. Be a Leadership Role Model
If you’re a natural leader and are feeling frustrated, the best way to impart your leadership knowledge is to be a role model for those above you and let your example be the one they draw from as they develop their own leadership behaviours. It’s more what you do than what you say that will really make a difference, so make sure you are a bastion of company values, and communicate that with both your leaders and your peers. Also, don’t be afraid to apologise when you’ve made a mistake! Taking ownership and cleaning up your own mess is half the leadership battle after all.