Essential Strategies for Managing Up…And Managing Down

Leaders today are often caught in between leading and managing the employees they are responsible for and remaining accountable to their supervisor and higher ups.  Holding the capability of both managing up and managing down is a skill. I have found many executives favor one over the other because of their comfort zone, how they define their role, and/or what they view as necessary to get ahead.  What can be more problematic is when a leader has a blind spot, and isn’t given feedback about the need to be a well-rounded leader.  Hence, I encourage you to do some soul-searching and ask others for feedback:

  • What are the needs of your team, and each direct report? Do you consider it your responsibility to meet those needs?
  • What are the needs of your boss, and the organization at large? How in touch are you with those needs?
  • How can you enhance your managerial effectiveness? Up, and down…

The Fundamentals of Managing Down

Your success as a leader depends on your ability to not only develop positive relationships with your employees, but also consider how to empower them.  As a leader, you must be able to accomplish results through the activity of others.  In order to effectively manage down, consider the following:

  • Be firm, straightforward, and fair. Take a direct approach with people in order to avoid miscommunication.  Don’t be ambiguous when stating performance standards or expectations.
  • Provide specific, timely, and constructive feedback. Your employees need to know what they are doing and its impact as well as what needs to be changed and why. Think SMART.
  • Communicate always. One of the biggest complaints that many people have about their supervisor is that the individual doesn’t communicate what is happening in the organization. This leads to your direct reports feeling insignificant or unimportant—which can impact morale and productivity.  Make an effort to allow information to flow so that employees feel supported and part of the team.
  • Remember to listen to your team members. Your opinion or direction is not the only one that counts. When you listen to your direct reports you are likely to get some great ideas and insight-while also serving as a mentor as they develop their skills and critical thinking abilities.
  • Acknowledge and praise. You can easily inspire your team to do their best work by praising them, thanking them, and giving them credit for a job well done. Remember to make sure your thanks or praise relates to specific actions or results—this allows employees to better understand what you expect.
  • Have an open door policy and walk around the office. Be overt about your desire to connect with your employees.  Tell them the kinds of things they should come to you about and make sure you go to them.
  • Accept that mistakes happen. Goof-ups are inevitable, after all, we are all human. If they are made in an attempt to grow or get better, make sure you work with your employees to analyze, understand, and assess what went wrong.
  • Resist the urge to micromanage. Stop believing you are the only one who can do something right. Instead of trying to control, set expectations, uphold performance standards, and let your employees do their jobs.  Give them responsibility and autonomy while ensuring they know you are there if they need you.

The Art of Managing Up

We all answer to someone, so a leader must also understand the art of managing up.  While many individuals believe that focusing on this is a shortcut to career advancement, senior leaders usually have the ability to recognize the people who do this at the expense of also managing down.  Both skill sets are necessary for success.  The art of managing up includes mastering the following:

  • Keep your manager in-the-know. No one wants to deal with surprises, and this includes your manager.  Communicate changes that could have a significant impact and work to proactively share information that pertains to your department or business unit.
  • Promote a positive dialogue. Portray your manager in a flattering light when discussing what it’s like to work for them, etc.  Don’t speak badly about the person—perpetuating gossip is a career no-no.
  • Be prepared with solutions. When your manager approaches with a problem, brainstorm to offer answers or solutions. Take the onus off of them to solve it and work to give them a starting point to build upon.  This demonstrates your ability to think on your feet and consider an issue from a critical point-of-view.
  • Manage emotions. State your needs and ideas in a succinct and clear manner.  Get to the point and explain if need be.  Avoid drama.
  • Show your dependability and reliability. Strive to be the person who takes the lead on a new project or handles a problem or difficulty.  Showcase your ability to be your manager’s #2.  Furthermore, develop your own right hand person on your team.
  • Be an influencer. This is key in moving forward in your career as it will help you sell your ideas to your superiors.

And so I urge you, reflect on the above.  Consider how to round out your skills and you can become the well-rounded leader you aspire to be.