Managing Up: How to Foster a Productive Partnership with Your Manager

Learning to “manage up” thoughtfully not only makes your life easier but often transforms you into a valued strategic advisor rather than just a direct report.

Managing Up: How to Foster a Productive Partnership with Your Manager
Managing Up

Early in my career, I worked with Amanda (name changed), an ambitious marketing manager struggling in her role. She frequently complained about her boss being demanding, nitpicky, and taking credit for her work. When I interviewed her manager, Greg (name changed), his perspective surprised me. He wished Amanda had taken more initiative in anticipating his needs instead of waiting around to be told what to do. 

It struck me as a classic communication disconnect between a manager and employee that damaged their working relationship and productivity. By making an effort to better understand each other’s work styles and priorities, they actually developed a highly collaborative partnership that benefited both.

This experience taught me our bosses are just people too. They have pressures and pet peeves like the rest of us. While we can’t control their management approach, we have power over how we choose to engage. Learning to “manage up” thoughtfully not only makes your life easier but often transforms you into a valued strategic advisor rather than just a direct report.

Know Thy Manager

The key to managing up is understanding what makes your boss tick on a human level.

Dive beneath their job title and observe:

  • What is their leadership style and work style? Are they hands-off or micromanagers? Introverted or extroverted? What types of communication do they best respond to?
  • What explicit or implicit goals are they working towards? Revenue targets? Launching a new product? Getting promoted?
  • What priorities occupy their time and energy? What issues keep them up at night?

Gathering intel on your manager allows you to align your work style accordingly. If they are metrics-driven, equip them with the key dashboard views they constantly monitor. If they want high-level summaries rather than granular detail, adapt your communication approach. 

Becoming a Solutions-Oriented Teammate

Armed with an understanding of your manager’s worldview, you can evolve into a productivity powerhouse they come to rely upon. Whenever you run into roadblocks, big or small, resist the temptation to simply throw up your hands or point fingers. Instead, flip obstacles into opportunities to showcase your problem-solving chops:

  • Anticipate obstacles before your boss surfaces them. Learn from previous feedback to get ahead of potential issues.
  • Frame problems in terms of impact on shared goals. Help connect the dots on why an emerging issue requires attention. 
  • When raising an issue, also float potential solutions, or at least outlining options. Demonstrate you’ve thought it through beyond just flagging it.
  • Share relevant examples of how you or colleagues have tackled similar issues successfully. Don’t just define the problem, provide ideas for how to solve it.

The Art of Upward Communication 

Managing up is also about finding simpatico ways of communicating that set your boss up to easily absorb your updates and collaborate productively. 

  • Map out a regular check-in cadence, whether informal or more structured, that aligns with their preferences not just yours. Consistency is key.
  • Prepare concise yet meaty updates on key projects—resist overloading with granular details they likely won’t retain or care to know. 
  • Help them prepare for important meetings by providing briefings in advance around key participants, topics of sensitivity, areas needing decisions. 
  • Celebrate milestones large and small to motivate your manager to continue investing in you and your team’s development.
  • Flag any delays early rather than surprising them down the road. Outline recovery plans showing you’re on top of getting projects back on track.

While rare, you will inevitably disagree at some point. Practice framing concerns in ansolutions-focused manner. Ask curious questions to understand their rationale. Suggest alternatives respectfully without circumventing their authority. The goal is to align around common purpose, not undermine their position.

It’s a Balancing Act

The irony of managing up is you want to be helpful without being perceived as undermining your boss, overstepping bounds, or acting in your own interests alone. You need to strike that delicate balance between supporting their success and making sure you get what you need too. 

Here are some final tips for walking that tightrope gracefully:

  • Stick to your domain. Worry less about how your manager manages her network of responsibilities, and zero in on exceeding expectations for your role.
  • Proactively seek feedback from your manager on your performance. Make clear you value continuous growth.
  • Don’t escalate issues over their head unless truly necessary. Respect the chain of command.

At the end of the day, we all share responsibility for a healthy manager-employee dynamic. With empathy and patience on both sides, you can transform even a disconnect into an opportunity to build trust and unity of purpose. The result is a working relationship founded on mutual growth and support rather than resentment or misunderstandings. We all win when that happens.

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