Managing UP: Four Things Never to Do

One who controls others is masterful, but one who has mastered himself is mightier still.” – Lao-Tzu, Ancient Chinese philosopher.

I’m a firm believer in managing up, the process of striving to learn and meet your manager’s needs without he or she even having to ask. Despite what it may sound like, managing up isn’t about control; it’s about anticipation and deliberate action designed to benefit both parties in the relationship. Your leaders need to know that you are always on top of the key items and that you properly communicate your progress without overwhelming them.

A wise leader doesn’t resent direct reports managing up, because he or she knows that it helps everyone. Remember the TV show M.A.S.H.? Company Clerk Radar O’Reilly not only knew when the choppers were coming, he anticipated almost everything Colonel Potter ordered before he said it. The result was an unusually smooth-running hospital.

Now, not everyone feels the same way I do about managing up. Some people feel it’s intrusive and presumptive, and it can be, if you handle it wrong. So while you should make every effort to engage, collaborate with, and advise your manager as needed, don’t overstep the line with these four common errors.

1. Avoid mind games and manipulation. Don’t try to control your manager, even subtly. You’re there to support her, not to try to take over. (click to tweet →) There’s a company hierarchy for a reason, and whether you respect your leader or not, respect the position. Furthermore, don’t breathe poison into his or her ear about the company or your team members in an effort to get ahead. Neither your manager nor your teammates are rungs to climb on the ladder of success. Do this, and it will come back to bite you some day.

2. Don’t be a mindless yes-person. “Brown-nosing” is an unpleasant term, but it aptly applies to the employee who agree with everything their leader says just to score points. It’s damaging to the morale of the rest of the team, it hinders productivity, and it prevents good decision-making. You have a duty to object to poor ideas in a respectful way and challenge your manager when necessary.

Side note: Sometimes you have to say no not for your bosses sake, but for your own. Sometimes in our effort to be nice and accommodating, we take on too much and end up hurting productivity (our own and our company’s)! I have a short video on how to say no, and instead help people to help themselves. Check it out here! 

3. Avoid office politics—when you can. Do your job to the best of your ability. Most of the time, you can navigate the minefield of office politics by refusing to talk about others and focusing on doing excellent work. Avoid petty squabbles, but when someone pins you down about something important, support your team and the company. Even grousing in private about your boss to a colleague can hurt you, because some people will happily sell you out for a temporary advantage.

4. Don’t cover up your mistakes. This can be tough, especially in an environment where the knee-jerk reaction to error is punitive. Rather than hide a mistake from your manager—or, worse, blame someone else—come clean right away. We all make mistakes while taking the initiative to fix a problem or to help the company. The damage usually proves minor, so learn from the error and move on.

Managing Each Other

The secret of managing up is not to take control of your manager, but in a sense, to teach your manager how to manage you. The idea is to determine how to best communicate, respond appropriately to situations, and make her life easier by anticipating her needs.


© 2017 Laura Stack.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on productivity and performance. Funny, engaging, and full of real life strategies that work, Laura will change mindsets and attitudes so your people can maximize productivity, strengthen performance, and get the job done right. Her presentations at corporate events, sales kick-off meetings, and association conferences help audiences improve output, increase speed in execution, and save time in the office. Stack has authored seven books, including her newest work, Doing the Right Things Right: How the Effective Executive Spends Time (Jan. 2016). To have Laura Stack speak at your next event, call 303-471-7401, email, or CONTACT US.

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