Managing your manager, or managing up, is a crucial skill to develop and nurture every day as the relationship between you and the person managing you is what can make or break your current employment. They say that people don’t leave companies, they leave managers (they are very right, whoever they are). Regardless of how you feel towards your manager, there is a way to build a relationship with them that will benefit both of you. After all, you don’t have to be friends, you just need to stay professional and get things done.
First, let me start with a statement that I’ve seen ignored and dismissed way too often:
Your Manager is a human being too.
Shocking, I know.
More seriously, we forget that our manager has their own shortcomings, weaknesses, vulnerabilities and defaults. They face challenges we are not aware of because they are an inherent part of their job, and they won’t share them with us. They might not be allowed to by their own manager, or they might not want to before they have more information.
They might be far from being perfect, but why would we expect perfection from them when we are very likely not perfect ourselves? During my time as a manager, I have seen an incredible amount of people, at all levels, applying standards to their manager that they wouldn’t apply to themselves. It came from a worrying lack of self-awareness on their side that made them expect empathy, encouragement, and dedication from their manager that they wouldn’t give to them in the first place.
It is time to change that. How? By managing your manager, the same way they are managing you.
It starts with you.
You are going to roll your eyes as it looks like I am always repeating the same thing: you only have control on yourself. It always starts with you. Before you expect anything from anyone and from life itself, you need to know yourself better; what triggers motivation, anger, happiness; what your purpose is; what your values are, and what standards you apply to yourself.
My opinion is that you can only expect from others what you proactively give them (not what you give back, but what you give first). So if you don’t give much, don’t expect much in return. This particularly works for the relationship between us and our manager. We usually have high expectations on what they should and shouldn’t do: they should help us with our development, be encouraging, be emotionally intelligent, give us positive feedback, be flexible, etc. Do we actually do the same with them? After being in management myself for a few years and partnering with dozens of managers, I can answer this question for you: we don’t.
Here are 5 things you can start doing now to change that.
1. Show empathy and genuine interest
Never ever forget that the person who is managing you is a human being with feelings, even if the worst managers of all can be incredibly evil. They have their own personal problems and history that you don’t know anything about – and you will probably never know. Put yourself in their shoes and see the big picture of what’s happening: you might disagree with what they ask you to do, but remember that they were asked to deliver the news by their own manager, so don’t hold them responsible for all the changes and bad things happening in your job.
2. Set your expectations
The same way your manager has expectations on your level of performance, you too should have expectations on their level of performance, and communicate it to them. That is where the “you can only expect from others what you proactively give them” paragraph comes into play. If you are not already giving them what they need (a good performing, positive and professional employee), they will likely push it back on you to start with yourself before setting your expectations with them. It’s normal, and they should do so.
3. Ask questions and listen actively
Ask questions to your manager about how they are doing, if they need any help, or for their opinion on something. Obviously, be genuinely interested in what they have to say. If you do so to suck up, please stop. Try to get to know them and show the same attention you would want to get (birthdays, special dates, etc.)
4. Be transparent
Share what you do with them, let them know about your work, your projects, your goals and aspirations. The more information, the better. Create a relationship where you can let them know in real time what is happening, in a way that is constructive and useful.
5. Give direct feedback
Give your manager constructive feedback about what they could improve. It’s better if it’s done in a face-to-face conversation, but I know some managers are difficult to talk to; if so, do it in writing. Take time to fill in manager surveys as well. If not, they will be able to say that they didn’t know the feedback. Hold them accountable the way they hold you accountable. After all, it’s a two-way relationship.