Success Rolls Uphill:
Four Steps to Manage Your Boss
By Joe Takash
Conventional business communication has been always been defined
from the top down. There are limitless books, seminars and online
resources on top down management you can access any time.
this is not the case for managing up. Middle management continues to
struggle to effectively influence executive management, which is
crucial to business survival. Not only should middle managers be
able to listen to the problems and challenges of their direct
reports, but they should be able to influence a positive change
going upward in the organization.
management may be the most important skill set to hone and own,
particularity in the volatility of today’s economy. Who better to
“have your back” than the boss who is front of you all the time?
following four-step approach is chock full of nuggets that are
simple, but potent. These are not about sucking up or being a “yes”
man or woman, rather, these are practical behaviors that require
diligence, courage and transparency. You just may find that you’d
like to be managed by your direct reports in similar fashion.
One: Choose Good Timing: Part of knowing the right timing is
setting expectations with your boss upfront, but if you haven’t
covered this ground, or the scope of responsibility has changed for
either of you, it may be time to realign. Rather than assume what
seems appropriate, consider these tips when timing your connections:
you and your boss have travel schedules not conducive to
face-to-face dialogue, simply inquire, “When can I get you on
the phone for twenty minutes? I’d really like your input.”
you have something heavier to discuss, inform your boss about
the importance of the matter. Many employees will try to connect
with their boss once or twice and when they don’t get the
attention they need, they harbor resentment. While it’s
frustrating, chances are your boss is buried with work like you,
and availability may be at a premium. Stay on him or her, and be
Discover the best times for your boss and yourself to speak.
Designated times may end up saving time and building strong
communication, fueling better results.
Two: Understand how your boss prefers information: Perhaps the
most common error employees make is they deliver information in the
opposite manner that their boss prefers receiving it. This
does little to help their connection or personal market value.
ago, I gained insight on this topic from my brother who is a partner
at a Chicago law firm. He responded, “Some bosses want you to
issue-spot, meaning quickly identify the issue you need input on and
get to the point. Others want context and background around the
subjects being addressed. We’re often accused of not listening, but
it poses a challenge when you’re coming to us with the wrong
does one “know” what the preferred communication is with his or her
boss? Eliminate uncertainty by asking so you can provide the highest
value on a consistent basis. Other tips to consider:
succinct and to the point. Even if your boss prefers context and
back ground, avoid rambling on.
why you’re coming and what you’re hoping to gain
from the encounter upfront. Nothing worse than explaining your
situation to your boss and after five minutes he or she
interrupts and politely says, “I’m sorry Susan, what exactly can
I help you with?”
solutions to problems. Sure, you are approaching your boss for
answers and feedback, but he or she wants to know you’ve thought
it through. The less time they have to spend solving your
problems, the more they value your contribution.
your best to be clinical and emotionally controlled. Often what
stands out above anything is your ability to demonstrate passion
and confidence, providing you remain cool and in control.
Emotional intelligence is key.
Three: Align Understanding: When wondering about the perception
of his performance, John from New York once told me, “I really
dislike the one-time annual review. I need to know how I’m doing
more often so I can constantly improve.”
asked him what he does about it, he replied, “Every six to eight
weeks, I approach my boss and ask him two questions: ‘What am I
doing well?’ and ‘Where can I improve?’
approach may be slightly more frequent than you prefer, but it’s so
much better than the guessing game that comes with anxiety or fear,
particularly in today’s unstable market. A different client inquired
about the approach he should take to get into a business development
position with his company. I told him, “Approach your boss and tell
him you’d like to get into business development and state the value
you believe you can provide.” When in doubt, ask.
Four: Follow-up and Live Your Word: Few things in managing up
are more demoralizing than a boss who doesn’t follow up or get back
to you on issues that are important to you and seemed the same to
them. This is why it’s critical to capture information in writing
during the meeting so they know you’re retaining exchanged data and
expect execution. Also:
often as possible, agree on times and dates to follow up on
issues discussed so you can diplomatically hold your boss
your boss can rely in you, loyalty is more likely to be
reciprocated. Establish trust through deadline driven behavior
and prompt response time.
to success upward is one that can be gratifying and rewarding. In a
time of uncertainty, it can be a path that is safe and secure.
Consider these steps and remember you are judged on your
behavior, performance, and results, not on your intentions.
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