A student asked me how to “manage up” the other day and I thought I’d give you my thoughts on this difficult but interesting topic. The most critical ingredient for managing up is to believe that you can. In every case I can think of where someone was good at managing up, this individual had enough self-confidence to believe this could be done. If you don’t think you can somehow influence leaders above you, you might as well not try. You have to believe. If you believe, great. If you don’t – what is preventing you from believing you can influence those “above” you?
Assuming you believe, what does managing up mean to you? If it means changing someone’s behavior or personality, you’re asking for a miracle. These things are best managed from above or within, but would be difficult at best from the bottom up. Reality number one – you can’t change people.
When trying to manage up you need to be specific. What exactly are you trying to accomplish? What are your goals? If you need a poor leader to be a better leader, you are probably out of luck as this requires changing someone’s behavior. Instead of being so general, ask yourself what do you need this person to do? Is it to provide better organization? Do you need better direction? These things can be accomplished by “managing” upwards.
As an example, if you need better direction, give the leader(s) you are having difficulty working with some options and a deadline. Have them pick a direction. If you feel especially empowered, you can even tell them what you are going to do and then see if they tell you not to. If you need more organization, you need to provide the organization and get your ineffective leaders to buy off on it. Focus on the task/results, not the behaviors.
All the best,
All the time,