Managing Your Manager: Four Ways to Create a Productive Relationship

“A successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him.” –David Brinkley, American journalist

Just because you may lack the title of “manager,” that doesn’t mean you don’t manage other people at work. You manage co-workers sideways, in the sense that you help them when you can and ask for help when necessary. You also “manage up,” managing your own manager’s expectations for you, as well as getting him or her to do what you want and need. Managing up and sideways helps you maintain smooth, productive relationships with others. It’s not about “sucking up” or flattery.

Effectively managing up means you know your leaders well enough to anticipate their needs and support their mission. Here are four ideas on how to do it well:

  1. Communicate clearly and appropriately. Don’t guess what your leaders want. When you start working together, simply ask. In addition to your duties and deadlines, inquire about their favored mode of communication (phone, email, or face-to-face), how often you should check in, and how much detail they prefer on your deliverables. Some managers like a quick check-in every few days, while others prefer a written memo outlining your accomplishments for the week and your expectations for next week, or even several emails daily. Be clear about what they expect of you, and don’t hesitate to ask follow-up questions. (It should go without saying that you’ll work to meet or exceed those expectations). Finally, learn your manager’s goals so you can help him or her meet them. This isn’t fawning—it’s teamwork.

  2. Clarify clashing priorities. If your manager gives you two or more “top priorities,” don’t assume you have to work overtime. The scheduling issue might be an unawareness of how much is on your plate, so ask which project should be completed first. If your manager makes everything top priority and doesn’t care about schedule clashes, meet to determine which project must absolutely be done first. If your manager says, “it’s all critical,” choose one yourself and explain when each will be done or ask for the resources necessary to complete both simultaneously.

  3. Know and follow the organization’s mission and vision. Doing so can guide your course even in times of uncertainty. Your manager’s goals and the organization’s goals should already align, but if you’re unsure, ask for clarification. If the way remains hazy, set your compass by the overall mission and vision statements of your organization. If needed, look deeper to the organization’s core values. Even if they’re not necessarily yours, it’s hard to go wrong by following those principles.

  4. Manage your meetings. You may not have full control over meetings, but you can clarify with your manager which ones you must attend, ignoring all others. You can also limit the length of those you attend by making your presentations concise, your questions clear, and your comments or answers brief. If you have the option, make it clear to everyone you’ll need to leave when the meeting hits its scheduled end-time, as you have other pressing business.

Whenever you face management hindrances that prevent you from reaching your productive peak, your best shot is to hone your skills at managing up.

About Laura Stack, your next keynote speaker:

© 2019 Laura Stack. Laura Stack, MBA, CSP, CPAE is an award-winning keynote speaker, bestselling author, and noted authority on employee and team productivity. She is the president of The Productivity Pro, Inc., a company dedicated to helping leaders increase workplace performance in high-stress environments. Stack has authored eight books, including FASTER TOGETHER: Accelerating Your Team’s Productivity (Berrett-Koehler 2018). She is a past president of the National Speakers Association, and a member of its exclusive Speaker Hall of Fame (with fewer than 175 members worldwide). Stack’s clients include Cisco Systems, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America, and she has been featured on the CBS Early Show and CNN, and in the New York Times. To have Laura Stack speak at an upcoming meeting or event, call 303-471-7401 or contact us online.

Here’s what others are saying:

“What I enjoyed most about your presentation was that it was not only engaging but also practical in application. I’ve read everything from Covey’s system to “Getting Things Done,” and you presented time management in a way that is the easiest I’ve seen to digest and apply. Thank you for helping our system today!”
—John-Reed McDonald, SVP, Field Operations, Pridestaff

“Laura is an incredible speaker who takes practical information to improve productivity and efficiency and makes it interesting and fun! She has a great sense of humor and completely engaged our corporate and sales team. Laura motivated everyone to take steps to make their lives more productive and efficient.
—Molly Johnson, Vice President Domestic Sales, Episciences, Inc.

“Ms. Laura Stack’s program received the highest scores in the 13-year history of the Institute for Management Studies (IMS) in Cleveland! From the 83 participants, the workshop received a perfect 7.0 for “Effectiveness of the Speaker” and 6.8 for “Value of the Content.” Managers especially valued learning about task management, how to minimize interruptions, organizing with Outlook, prioritizing, effectively saying ‘no,’ how to set boundaries, and recognizing self-imposed challenges to time management.”
—Don Gorning, Chair, Institute for Management Studies Cleveland