How to Manage Up (aka Manage Your Boss)

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“There are people who make things happen, there are people who watch things happen, and there are people who wonder what happened. To be successful, you need to be a person who makes things happen.” — Jim Lovell


In the corporate world, many are either used to being managed by someone above you, or you are the manager – delegating tasks to those below you. Regardless of your position on the ladder, you are used to a chain of command that goes downward. What if we told you that it’s okay to manage your boss? Would that sound scary and intimidating? What if we also told you that not only would this be okay, but that your boss would thank you for it? Believe us yet?

The honest truth is that your boss is part of your team. Yes, they have an elevated position from yours, and that creates a bit of a power and responsibility differential, but overall you should have shared goals and aspirations. You should want similar things.

Of course nothing is perfect, and since the pandemic early days, worker dissatisfaction and mental health has been highlighted as these stressful times made already bad situations worse. One survey showed that 75% of participants listed their direct report as the cause of most of their workplace stress. While we are not denying the existence of bad bosses, we do wonder if employees took another approach with their superiors, if that could improve the relationship all around.

Remember that your boss is human – they aren’t mind readers or magicians! Creating an open line of communication is the first step of managing up.


What Does Managing Up Mean?

Your direct report manages you, but what that really means is that they manage the relationship they have with you. This goes both ways. You can simultaneously manage the relationship you have with your boss. This isn’t just about getting along and having a good rapport, it’s about having an open dialogue with your boss about how you want to be developed as an employee.

Share your professional goals with your boss and explain how you’d like to reach them. You will need your boss’s help to be mentored and trained to do the things that will bring you success at the organization. In turn, you will be helping your boss succeed.


Does Your Boss Really Know Who You Are?

Okay, of course your boss knows you exist and that you were hired for your skills and experience, but do they know who you are as a worker? Do they know how to manage that relationship? Part of managing up is letting them know who you are. You need to advocate for yourself, because no one else is going to do that and you cannot count on your value being simply discovered by your boss. You have to show them.

When you own your own personal and professional development, you become easy to mentor. 




Study Your Boss

Now, this doesn’t mean you should spy on your boss or shadow them. This means you need to be observant in all your interactions with them. Always ask questions. This way you can add value where you perceive there are gaps. As we’ve pointed out, bosses are human, too. So, help them out. See where they need help and be the person to solve that problem. 

Coming to your boss with solutions is the best way to demonstrate your engagement, your competence, and ultimately present yourself as a candidate for development toward a raise or promotion. If your goal is to work your way up, or to earn more, it is critical to understand the priorities and what is important to your boss and the company they are leading in. Asking for a raise because “I’ve been here a long time” or “I need to make more money” might appeal to their compassion. But asking for a raise alongside solutions that will contribute to company success makes logical and business sense, and will inspire your boss to see you as a positive investment rather than a rising cost.


Practice Discernment

When you create this two-way street relationship with your boss, you might feel obligated to tell them things, such as office chatter. In turn, you might want to divulge information to your co-workers and team members that was said to you in confidence. The best stance to take is a neutral one. Remain friendly and trustworthy to everyone, but don’t pick sides. It’s important to be discerning when it comes to what you do and don’t share.




The 3 Door Policy

Once you have established a good relationship with your boss, and you feel like you can approach them with anything, it’s always a good idea to preface what you are about to say with your intentions.

Door #1: “I just need to vent!” – Maybe a project isn’t going well, but you’re not specifically looking for solutions, you just need to express your feelings on the subject. This will signal to your boss to go into listening mode. 

Door #2: “There is a problem, but I have some ideas and solutions.” – Okay, so now you are opening up a door for a conversation. You also are showing that you have a plan and want them to be on board. 

Door #3: “Help me, I’m stuck.” – This is when you have no ideas or solutions and are seeking their guidance and assistance. 

Being clear with what you need from your boss will help them manage their response and allow for more streamlined solutions. You’re managing the relationship in a way that benefits you both. 


Join Us or Hire Us

If you want more advice on how to manage your boss, please feel free to reach out to us at Staff Shop.

If you’re looking for new opportunities, we invite you to check out our job board.


“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.” — Michael John Bobak


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Staff Shop Inc. is a privately held Canadian-Indigenous-Women owned staffing and consulting firm servicing Canada I USA I Caribbean as an award-winning diverse supplier, certified with CCAB, CAMSC, WBE & WEConnect International.

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