Managing Up and Across

Photo of a boss and employees

"The emotional brain responds to an event more quickly than the thinking brain." - Daniel Goleman

Psychology Today defines “managing up” as the high art of handling bosses, parents, and other authority figures. Some believe managing up is the art of getting what you want from your boss. Others contend that managing up is simply doing your job and getting good results. Yet another description includes minimizing “interference” or micromanagement. All are valid on some level; however, one must be very thoughtful about what it means to you in your particular situation.

One recurring theme in the managing up discussion is micromanagement. Micromanagement is usually about your boss’s anxiety level, not yours. It’s important to understand what worries your boss and try to address those concerns proactively. The remedy here is appropriate and timely communication with plenty of details. This approach should diffuse your boss’ concerns and hopefully inspire confidence in your work.

Over time, this type of thoughtful communication should result in many deposits in your boss’s emotional bank account, allowing trust to grow and hopefully reducing micromanagement. Lastly, if you must challenge your boss, do so thoughtfully and with a positive spin. Phrasing your feedback as a question or placing the focus on your behavior rather than your boss’s is always a good idea.

Photo of two men in a meeting

"The brain doesn't distinguish between being a more empathic manager and a more empathic father." - Daniel Goleman

Managing up also involves understanding your boss, their challenges and opportunities, blind spots, and work styles and then figuring out ways to support them.  Once we have a better understanding of our manager’s needs, a major benefit of this approach is that we learn more about ourselves in the process adding more insight to improve our own performance.

Performance is also a key component to effective upward management. If we are doing our jobs well, managing up takes care of itself. In doing our jobs well, we provide our managers with the right information at the right time; we’re meeting our goals, keeping them informed, responding to their direction, and we are helping propel them toward their goals. Which, like it or not, is a big part of all of our jobs.

Conversely, if we are not doing our jobs well, then performance issues will overshadow all interactions with our bosses and desired outcomes will be less likely.

If you are doing these things, you’re probably okay with your boss:

  • Collaborating
  • Leading initiatives
  • Developing your own people
  • Staying current in your field as well as the field in which your organization is a player
  • Driving your own growth
  • Being a player for all seasons

Managing across the organization is a horse of a different color. Getting things done through others is a key management tenet. Right? However, the difference is that when we manage across the organization, we’re really talking about influence, not management and control.  Some contend that managing across is more difficult than managing up because it requires a different set of skills, including emotional intelligence, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and effective social skills (See Daniel Goleman’s writings on Emotional Intelligence).

Managing across the organization gets tricky because we often do not have the authority to go along with the responsibility we’ve been given to accomplish a particular goal or objective. While this is often a challenging situation, it can be overcome. Here are a few tips:

  • Set mutually beneficial goals
  • Establish credibility
  • Develop powers of persuasion
  • Tap into networks
  • Recognize the expertise of others
Photo of a boss checking her watch

"There is zero correlation between IQ and emotional empathy... They're controlled by different parts of the brain." - Daniel Goleman

It is also very important to earn the trust of those you are trying to influence. How do you do this? One way is to be perceived as authentic and supportive. This is accomplished through showing up consistently and honestly.

I frequently find myself in situations where I need something from a peer or someone in a different organizational “silo”.  They have no obligation to help out but it sure would be nice if they did. With their help, the project, initiative, or task could move forward more quickly and we could get more done. In order to get what you want, you have to give when something is needed from you. It works both ways and it’s a matter of simple give-and-take.

I would like to encourage you to ask for what you need and be prepared to respond accordingly when you can provide assistance. Establishing this give-and-take relationship is key to gaining the credibility and influence necessary to manage horizontally.

Hopefully, you are now armed with few more insights about how to effectively manage up and across. Good luck!

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