Who’s the Boss?

Managing up without sucking up

Some bosses are highly organized, communicative leaders who offer direction, feedback and, when needed, correction.

At the other end of the spectrum are those who work with their head down, appear forgetful, disorganized and potentially overwhelmed, and from whom advice and constructive criticism is nonexistent.

A lot of CEOs, managers and supervisors likely fall somewhere in between, but no matter where your boss is on the spectrum, it’s important to find a way to work effectively with them, while also continuing to learn and grow in your own career. The concept is called managing up. If properly executed, it’s a great problem solver. If done poorly, it can come off as overstepping, gunning for your boss’s job, being manipulative or, at the very least, brownnosing.

To effectively manage up, it’s important to do the following:

Begin at the beginning: If possible, when you first start a new job, discuss with your boss their preferred method of communication (email, in-person, telephone) and how frequently they’d like to have check-ins and what they see as your priority tasks. Also, ask when you can expect performance reviews, how your performance is measured and what documentation they expect you to provide for your review.

Mission Accomplished: Learn the company’s mission and goals, as well as those of your boss, and gear your work toward those goals. Some managers will offer this information, but not all, so if they don’t, be sure to ask.

Anticipation: Learn to anticipate your boss’s needs and work to make his or her job easier, not more difficult. Listen carefully when your boss brings up recurring problems. Find out if they are amenable to hearing opinions from underlings and if so, present solutions.

Distraction Techniques: While it’s great to offer your boss solutions to problems, especially solutions that save the company money, this tactic should only be employed if and when your workload is in tip-top shape. Your boss hired you to do the job you were given and if it’s not getting done, everything else is a distraction. Those distractions could end up costing you your job, so solve your own problems before looking around the company for other people’s problems.

Gain Clarity: If your boss often issues vague directives, review the information. In meetings or in a followup email, simply say or write, “To clarify, you said you’d prefer it if I focus on generating new business this week and switch off to checking in with current clients next week. Is that correct?” That way, if you’ve misunderstood it will get cleared up on the spot. Emailing a quick recap of a meeting or conversation is also a great way to have reference documentation if you have a forgetful boss.

I once had a forgetful boss who gave little or no direction and clarification emails were a lifesaver. It caused a complete turnaround for the better in my working relationship with a person that everyone in the company found mystifying and difficult to work with, because they never understood her directives or she’d forget the assign-ment. By documenting it in an email, both of us had a reference point and again, we could clear up miscommunications before any investment in time or effort.

Whether you call it managing up or simply good communication, it is a skill that is key to working well with your boss. At the heart of the matter is asking what your boss wants from you, making sure you understand their directives and getting the job done.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to Melanie@MyNewOrleans.com.

Categories: The Magazine