“Managing Up” Through The Looking Glass by Roz Usheroff
This is NOT what ‘managing up” means. It is not about making your boss look good, except incidentally . . . Managing up is handling the preparation or politics that can affect success . . . Sometimes it involves making your boss look good. Sometimes it involves rolling your boss if the boss is undermining a critical strategy for your company or organization. – reader comment relating to Wall Street Journal article “What It Means to Manage Up” by Liz Garone
It is not often that I read an article in which the insights of a reputable journalist for an internationally recognized publication is so openly and definitively challenged.
In making this statement I am not suggesting that just because an expert in their field makes a statement it should automatically be accepted without question. After all a sincere debate between well informed parties enhances the value of the information being offered.
What I am saying however, is that the confusion surrounding the concept of “managing up,” is one of those contentious debates that is reminiscent of the discourse between the Hatfield’s and McCoy’s.
On the one hand, you have Garone’s take on managing up which suggests that it is a positive cultivation of your boss’ good will through your ongoing anticipation of his or her needs, and your subsequent efforts to help them succeed.
On the other hand, you have the dissenting commentary from many who, similar to the reader who offered the comment, makes it abundantly clear that managing up is part of navigating and mastering the organization’s political landscape to achieve your personal goals, regardless of the impact on your boss.
So which is it?
Based on my experience in working with clients the world over, the frequent answer to this polarizing question is one of uncertainty and paralysis. In short, and when in doubt, the vast majority of people actually become spectators in their own careers. Or to put it another way, even though everyone knows they must play the game, the question becomes what game?
Do I focus my energies on serving the boss in the hopes that I will get noticed and rewarded – a strategy that based on the story of Janet can lead to ultimate disappointment?
Alternatively, do I assume a predatory role in which I manipulate my way to the top by either making my boss look good or rolling over them if they get in my way?
Ultimately, I am more inclined to not view managing up as an either or proposition. I instead prefer to employ what I have come to call the Far East Strategy.
In the following excerpt from my book The Future of You I share, in the form of a personal reflection, my experience in terms of achieving a balance between the serve or be served paradox of managing up:
Not that long ago, a company with whom I consult in the Far East underwent a major change at the top when their CEO suddenly left the organization. Shortly afterward a new Chief Executive was appointed and his first step was to determine who of his current executive team would continue with the company and who would be let go. To assist him in making this decision he scheduled a series of meetings with each executive, at which time they would present their vision as to where the company should go. The new CEO would then make his decision based on what he heard and how it aligned with his own vision.
Knowing that their jobs were on the line, each of these executives gave the best presentations of their life. They talked about their length of time with the company, what they had accomplished in the past, and where they saw the company’s future.
However, despite giving their all, the majority of the executives lost their jobs. The ones who kept their jobs had the benefit of knowing the lay of the land – or what the new boss wanted to see before they went into the meeting. They had this information because they had coaches who told them upon what areas they needed to focus, including how to align their vision with that of their new CEOs.
Their PR efforts in their meetings were effective because they had recognized long before the change at the top occurred that to be successful in promoting their value (i.e., their brand), they had to have a solid understanding of their organization’s inner workings. To get to this point, they networked with key people in their company, sought feedback as to their strengths and weaknesses, as well as were active participants in discussions. In other words, the platform upon which they would promote their brand was established and refined long before their meeting with the new CEO.
The above story provides both a framework as well as a contextual reference point for what it means to manage up. Specifically, when you manage up you first seek to understand the political landscape of your organization, including its goals and the key players within the enterprise itself. Once identified, you then begin to align your value proposition with said goals, and those of the individuals who are in a position of power and influence. This is called being plugged in or connected.
Make no mistake, you must be plugged in before you can manage up.
This being said, I will end today’s post with the same conclusion I wrote in relation to the Far East Strategy excerpt . . . How prepared are you for the unexpected? Have you built a strong network of contacts within your organization, including individuals you would consider to be coaches and mentors? If you haven’t, then there is no time like the present, because you just never know when you will be called into the meeting of your career.