How well do you manage up?

7 tips to start mastering this critical leadership responsibility

Managing up is a skill that’s not often taught; however, it’s one with a significant impact on a leader’s relationship with their boss – whether they are the CEO, an SVP, or a director, or manager. It highly influences performance and results.

Leaders often assume they should put their heads down and focus on getting work done. Many have grown accustomed to participating in meetings (1:1s, team meetings) and communicating via email or brief encounters and thinking all will be well. Managing up, however, requires much more nuance and intention than this.

Here are 7 tips to effectively ensure you are supporting your supervisor proactively and fully:

  1. I provide my boss with regular reporting that allows them to know the status of my work and my team’s work.
  2. I regularly ask my supervisor for feedback on my work, including my reporting, behaviors, and performance.
  3. In the last quarter, I have inquired what I can do to support my supervisor better.
  4. I anticipate the needs of my supervisor and work to make their job easier.
  5. I ensure I keep my supervisor updated on time-sensitive critical issues that arise.
  6. I regularly admit mistakes, ask for help, and show vulnerability with my supervisor.
  7. I get to know my supervisor as a human being and show that I care.

While none of these are complex, together they demonstrate the drive, humility, and self-awareness required to operate at the highest, most effective, and efficient levels in leadership roles.

Let’s dive in a bit deeper. Rate yourself from 1-10 on the bulleted statements under each category, with 1 being “Never” and 10 being “Always.”

  • I provide my boss with regular reporting that allows him or her to know the status of my work.
    • I ask my boss what type of reports would serve him or her best and inquire about format and channel preferences.
    • I ask what type of cadence they would prefer and what would suit them best – whether that’s weekly, monthly and/or quarterly. I also determine what content they expect for each.
    • I provide a draft framework and get feedback, so I can ensure I’m making their job easier relative to their managing up (to their supervisor or board).
    • I give my boss enough time to review my reports prior to critical meetings and regulatory deadlines.
    • I stick to report deadlines.
    • As I delegate aspects of reporting to my team, I give myself enough time to review and revise.
    • I inquire whether each report is serving the purpose of making my supervisor’s job easier.
    • I add insights, not just data, when appropriate.
  • I regularly ask my supervisor for feedback on my work, including my reporting, behaviors, and performance.
    • I’m in the habit of asking, “What could I be doing better?” at the end of every meeting.
    • When I hit a roadblock and start losing momentum, I ask my boss for advice.
  • In the last quarter, I have inquired what I can do to support my supervisor better.
    • I regularly find out whether my boss feels I’m focused on the right priorities, and if there are other areas I should be focused on.
    • I’ve said the words, “Is there anything I can do to support you?” in the past quarter more than three times.
  • I anticipate the needs of my supervisor and work to make his job easier.
    • In the past quarter, I’ve volunteered to take on something without being asked.
    • I listen to hear and work to anticipate the needs of my supervisor.
    • I meet deadlines and provide updates on roadblocks in a timely manner.
  • I ensure I keep my supervisor updated on time-sensitive critical issues that arise.
    • I expedite responses to critical issues.
    • I make myself available to ensure that my boss knows I have their back when it comes to crisis issues and communications.
  • I regularly admit mistakes, ask for help, and show vulnerability with my supervisor.
    • I’m not afraid to own up to making a mistake and take accountability for my actions (rather than place blame on others).
    • I’ve learned that having a superior air or ego does not serve me (or others) and while it’s good to be confident, vulnerability-based leadership benefits me (and others). I now share when I’m struggling, don’t know something, and ask for help when I need it.
  • I get to know my supervisor as a human being and show that I care.
    • I show my boss that I care about him or her as a human being.
    • I do not participate in any third-party talk or gossip about my boss with my peers, direct reports, or anyone.
    • I always have my supervisor’s back and authentically speak highly of him or her.
    • If someone else is complaining about my boss, I let them know I’m not comfortable and encourage them to have the conversation directly with my supervisor (not me) and politely excuse myself from the conversation.
    • I show passion for my work and enthusiasm in support of my boss’ vision.

How did you fare? You may find yourself doing some of these naturally. Which areas need shoring up? For those with only a few scores below 6, congratulations! You’re doing a great job and can focus now on those areas where you want to bring up those few areas higher to an 8-10. If you averaged between 5-7 across the board, then you may want to seriously consider placing much more emphasis on this. You can create a stronger relationship and improve your skill and performance overall.

Anyone scoring below these marks need not feel shame. Managing up is not an area that gets a lot of attention. You may even, in fact, feel like you have a good relationship with your boss. The key is whether you want to take your leadership to the next level.

Managing up is not only something leaders can lean into for themselves; rather, it’s something that they can help their own direct reports learn about.

If you let your direct reports and team know that “Managing up” is something you’re currently working on, you have an ideal opening. Share what steps you’re taking and then invite them to dive into the tips you’re undertaking (or ask them to read this article). In doing this, you will be providing professional development and receive greater support yourself.

It’s time to give this important leadership responsibility the attention it deserves!

Deborah Mersino

Deborah Mersino

Organizational Consultant and Executive Coach Deborah Mersino supports credit unions and other purpose-driven organizations in achieving ambitious results. She can be reached at Deborah@MersinoConsulting.com, via LinkedIn or through ... Details

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