Photo credit: Pierre Andrews (mortimer) under a Creative Commons license.
When most people talk about management, they usually mean managing downward–the manager at the top, managing people beneath. It is incredibly important to be a good manager of your direct reports, but those of us who have been middle managers know that this is only half of the equation–the thing about being in the middle is that you have to pay attention to those above you as well as those below you in the organizational chart. Even now, as a director, I spend a lot of time managing from the middle–leading the people who work for me, as well as “managing up” with my six bosses on the library board.
Just as you do with your staff, you should take the time to understand the communication style, motivation, and work habits of your boss(es), and learn how to maximize your interactions with your boss(es) so that you all come away feeling satisfied with the results.
For example, at a previous job, I knew that the monthly management meetings happened on the first Wednesday of the month. My manager was a thinker and liked to have time to ponder, so I made sure that I gave him any documents he needed for that meeting by the Friday before, Monday at the latest, so that he had time to review them and come back to me with any questions or revisions. A day or two after the meeting, when he’d had time to reflect on it, I would check in with him and ask if there was anything from the meeting that he’d like me to follow up on. You can call this sucking up if you want, but I was useful to my boss. I made his job easier and made him look good in those meetings, and he came to see me as an employee he could count on.
I am currently working with my fifth Board Chair. I learned how each of those five board chairs preferred to communicate, what their work styles and habits are, and what their hot buttons are. One board chair preferred to meet face-to-face on Tuesday mornings. One board chair preferred phone calls and texts on an as-needed basis rather than a regular meeting between us. One board chair preferred texts and Facebook messages and we met at each other’s houses. Two board chairs preferred emails, and tended to coffees and working lunches when we had face-to-face meetings. Some want lots of detail, some want overviews. One was very focused on people’s feelings, while one was intensely focused on the bottom line, and the rest fell somewhere along that spectrum. For each, I adjusted my communication methods and style to be the most useful to them. I do my best to anticipate what their questions, objections, and expectations are so that I can be prepared and ready. I have been lucky to have really good (at least I think they’ve been really good!) working relationships with my bosses, and I firmly believe that it’s because I work hard at managing up.
I also manage down in order to help my staff manage up. My managers know not to come to me on board meeting day with a big idea, a proposal, or a project. I spend a lot of time gearing up for these public meetings, and on board meeting day pretty much all of my time is spent reviewing the meeting packet and mentally walking through each item, anticipating objections, questions, and issues–the last thing I need is a diversion. If the building is on fire on board meeting day, my managers know that they should evacuate the building, call the fire station, and then come tell me (I am mostly kidding). My point is that my direct reports know the best days, the best times, and the best ways to get and hold my attention–and it is because they effectively manage up that I value them as much as I do.
Successful leaders cannot just manage the people who report to them; to be effective, you have to be able to manage up and manage across (that’ll be a future post, dear readers). Take the time to observe your boss(es) and plan your interactions, and I guarantee your relationship with your boss(es) will be the better for it.