Businessman sitting with World's best Boss mug to represent managing up

Managing Up without Being a Suck Up

Brown noser, bootlicker, backslapper.

These are the more polite terms we use to describe someone who makes their primary job at work garnering the praise and adulation of their boss (and not actually doing real work).

Most people’s reaction to fawning coworkers is to refuse to do anything that looks political at all. An executive leader I coached, who hired me after she was passed over the second time for a promotion she richly deserved, recounted, “I just put my head down and did good work. I figured at some point in time my manager would notice me.”

Her manager did not.

Not that he was a bad manager. He was a crazy busy manager, running in a dozen different directions, and needed to be kept informed by my coaching client about the quality of her work and its timely completion, something she saw as being overtly political.

See the problem here?

The brutal truth about working in an organization that has more than one employee is this: you’re going to have a boss. It’s just as simple as that. And your relationship with that boss will, to a very large extent, determine your future in that organization.

So, while I spend much of my time in this blog on how you can manage your team well, here’s some help on how to manage your boss well. Or what I call managing up without being a suck up.

What Managing Up Does NOT Mean

Sadly, there’s very few tools available for addressing this important professional relationship. One of the best resources I’ve found is Yael Zofi’s practical workbook entitled, TOPS: Managing Up.

Before I overview Yael’s approach to this subject, let’s agree on what managing up is not. Managing up is not:

  • Manipulating your boss into doing something he or she doesn’t want to do
  • Agreeing with everything your boss says or does
  • Violating your values and priorities, or jeopardizing career opportunities
  • Enduring an abusive work relationship

Nothing in this list, especially the last one, is appropriate in the workplace. Don’t go there, or let your boss go there.

What Managing Up Does Mean

According to Yael Zofi, managing up involves these four fundamentals:

  • Knowing the critical business objectives your manager is held accountable for and the measurable outcomes that define his or her success
  • Knowing the critical business objectives your manager holds you accountable for and the measurable outcomes that define your success
  • Identifying  your manager’s style, likes, dislikes, and the very best way to communicate with him or her
  • Adjusting your style and mode of communication to help you and your manager achieve your critical objectives and measurable outcomes.

Getting clarity on these four fundamentals is critical for success with the relationship you have with your boss. And here’s the super important part, don’t wait for clarity to come to you. Again, your manager is crazy busy, so get on his or her calendar and get the answers you need to these four fundamentals, so you and your boss together can do your best work.

Then keep your manager in the loop. No news is not good news. No news is no news. A regular flow of information is the oxygen that allows this relationship—and your career prospects—to thrive.

Here’s the Bottom Line

“You don’t have to like or admire your boss,” Peter Drucker advises, “nor do you have to hate him. You do have to manage him, however, so that he becomes your resource for achievement, accomplishment, and personal success.”

In the constant chaos that’s become corporate life today, that statement is more true than when Peter Drucker said it four decades ago. Embrace the responsibility for helping your manager succeed. In his or her success, you’ll also find your own.

When your manager wins, your customers win, your company wins, and you win.

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