Learn How To Manage Up

Everyone has a boss. Yep, everyone.

Maybe they’re called a supervisor or manager. Possibly your boss is a board of directors. Or maybe your “bosses” are customers and shareholders. But we all have a boss. Someone we’re accountable to. And it’s our responsibility to know our boss and the best way to manage them.

boss, supervisor, manager, communication, manage, employee, ideas, style

We spend a lot of time talking about how managers need to manage. What great leaders should do. Sometimes we forget the relationship goes both ways. Not only do managers and leaders need to know how to get the best performance out of their staff but, employees need to know how to bring out the best in their manager.

Start with this: Managers and leaders need to tell the people they work with how to get the most from the working relationship. Here are a few examples:

One of my bosses was very difficult to schedule time with. She was busy all the time. The best time to speak with her was when she was driving home. If I tried to bring ideas to her in the middle of the day, she would be distracted and I typically didn’t get the attention I was looking for. So I started staying a few minutes later at the end of the day. I would ask her to call me on her drive home. We got to talk. Really talk. And the time was valuable.

Another boss was the opposite; he would come in very early in the morning. And he liked Starbucks. Every morning he would walk by managers’ offices looking for someone to go with him to Starbucks. My colleagues wouldn’t think of coming in early. Me? I got myself up at zero dark thirty for coffee. Why? Because I got quality time with my boss.

While those examples deal with quality time, I had another manager who preferred ideas in writing. If you were trying to pitch an idea, he wanted to see it in writing first. It helped me tremendously in terms of being succinct with my proposals and outlining the needs, costs, and benefits of my idea. After he had the chance to review and process it, we would discuss it in detail.

Obviously, there are times when the business forces us to work outside of our comfort zones. Emergencies occur. We have to compromise our style for the benefit of the team. But there is value in knowing how our boss likes to work.

If you’re trying to figure out how to manage your boss – ask them! Next time you have an idea: “When is a good time to discuss with you an idea I have?” After you discuss the idea: “Let me know if this is a good way to bring ideas to you in the future.”

Being able to manage your boss is a business necessity. It should not be considered or treated as manipulation. A really good boss knows enough about themselves to share information about their working style. It’s a win for everyone involved.

Image courtesy of HR Bartender


  1. says

    Good post, Sharlyn.

    I think that one thing people often don’t realize that is that the best managers aren’t necessarily good people managers. Often times they were simply very strong individual contributors that moved up the ranks because of how much cash flow they they generated for the business. A good individual contributor needs to understand their manager and – to your point – effectively manage the relationship if they want to be successful in their role.

    Thanks for sharing.



  2. says

    Hi Rory. Thanks for the comment. I agree that not all people with the manager title are good managers. In fact if someone has a weak manager, it’s even more important to learn how to manage them.

  3. says

    This is really interesting an useful information. We see lot’s of frustrated managers and employees in the employee surveys we conduct for companies. Your advice employees and their managers to work together more effectively.

  4. says

    Thanks for the comment Howard. I believe the whole purpose of an employee survey is to open lines of communication. Yes, the data is nice and provides value…but the conversation is how a company moves to the next level.