Importance of taking responsibility for one’s actions and behavior to gain the benefits of managing up, including enhanced communication and collaboration, positive relationships, job satisfaction and engagement, career development opportunities, performance improvement, and conflict mitigation.
When it comes to difficult situations at work, it can be easy to place all the blame on others, particularly our boss. However, it’s important to acknowledge that we may be a big part of the problem. Acknowledging our role in difficult situations doesn’t mean we are solely responsible for the problem. However, by taking responsibility for our actions, we can improve the situation and build stronger relationships with our colleagues and boss.
Not all bosses are easy to get along with. I know that’s true. However, you must still learn to “manage up” to meet your boss’ expectations. I’m not suggesting some sycophantic “ass-kissing” nonsense. No, I mean digging deep within yourself to make profound changes to your style and thinking where everyone wins, especially the organization.
There is substantial research that demonstrates that managing up is important for enhancing communication and collaboration, building positive relationships that improve job satisfaction and engagement, enhancing career development opportunities by being seen as a valuable asset to the organization, improving performance because employees are better able to align their goals and priorities with their managers, and mitigating conflicts and challenges as a result of better communication and shared understanding of goals and priorities.
According to an article published in the Journal of Business and Psychology by JD Mackey, Managing up is “the process by which employees influence their managers to provide the support, resources, and opportunities needed to be effective and successful in their roles. And it is an important skill for all employees to learn.” There are three essential steps needed to manage up.
Identify: The employee identifies the manager’s goals, needs, and expectations and considers how their own goals and needs align with those of the manager.
Adapt: The employee adapts their communication style, behavior, and work approach to better align with the manager’s expectations and needs.
Influence: The employee uses communication, feedback, and other strategies to influence the manager to provide the support, resources, and opportunities needed to be successful in their role.
Below is a list of 10 tips for authentic and healthy work relationships, especially with the boss. The better you get, the more the organization wins.
- Reflect on your behavior: Take a step back and objectively evaluate your own behavior. The ability to recognize and manage one’s own emotions and those of others, including empathy, self-awareness, and social awareness are key pillars of emotional intelligence. Are there any actions or attitudes that you can change to improve the situation? Own up to your mistakes and take responsibility for your actions. Show your boss that you are accountable.
- Communicate openly and honestly: If you have an issue with your boss, it’s important to address it directly and constructively. Schedule a meeting with your boss to discuss the problem and develop a solution. Be specific about what’s bothering you, and avoid being confrontational. Research published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior examines the relationship between leader-member exchange (LMX) and job satisfaction. The study found that there is a strong positive relationship between LMX and job satisfaction, meaning that higher-quality LMX relationships are associated with higher levels of job satisfaction. The effect was strongest for employees who had higher levels of interaction with their leaders, and for those who had more control over their work. The ability to communicate effectively with the manager, including active listening, clear and concise expression, and understanding the manager’s communication style.
- Seek feedback: Ask for feedback from your colleagues and your boss. This will provide you with a different perspective and help you to identify areas for improvement.
- Practice empathy: Try to understand your boss’s perspective and the challenges they may be facing. Empathy can help to build understanding and improve communication. According to Amy Gallo in her article “How to Work with Someone you Don’t Like” published in the Harvard Business Review, recognize and acknowledge your own feelings towards the difficult people and try to separate them from the situation. Consider what might be driving your negative emotions, and try to stay calm and objective when interacting with your boss.
- Build trust: Follow through on your commitments, be honest and transparent in your communication, and demonstrate your competence and reliability. Communicate proactively: Keep your boss informed of your progress, and be proactive in asking for guidance or support when needed.
- Show initiative: Take on extra responsibilities and show your boss that you are proactive and willing to go above and beyond.
- Be flexible: The ability to adapt to the manager’s needs, preferences, and working style, while also being flexible and able to handle change and uncertainty. Be open to feedback, new ideas, and constructive criticism. Show your boss that you can handle unexpected challenges
- Learn from the experience: Use this as an opportunity to learn and grow. Reflect on what you could have done differently and plan to improve.
- Think Strategically: the ability to think strategically and creatively, identify opportunities, and proactively offer solutions and ideas to the manager. In the context of managing up, strategic thinking means being able to anticipate the manager’s needs and identify opportunities to contribute to the organization’s goals. This may involve taking a proactive approach to problem-solving, offering creative solutions, and suggesting new ideas or initiatives. For example, suppose an employee notices that there is a recurring problem that is causing delays in a particular process. Instead of simply reporting the issue to their manager and waiting for instructions, the employee can use their strategic thinking skills to analyze the problem, identify possible causes and solutions, and propose a plan of action to the manager. By taking this proactive approach, the employee can demonstrate their value to the manager and the organization, while also improving their job performance and enhancing their career development opportunities.
- Maintain a positive attitude: Maintain a positive attitude and approach to your work and encourage others to do the same. Maintaining a positive attitude can be hard, especially in difficult situations, but it’s important to remember that every difficult situation is an opportunity for growth and development.
In conclusion, managing up is an essential skill for any employee looking to build a strong relationship with their manager and advance in their career. By prioritizing communication, building trust, and demonstrating key competencies such as strategic thinking and adaptability, employees can establish a productive and positive working relationship with their boss. While managing up can be challenging, the benefits in terms of career growth, job satisfaction, and overall organizational success are well worth the effort. So, take the time to invest in this critical skillset, and you’ll be well on your way to success.
- Dinh, J. E., Lord, R. G., Gardner, W. L., Meuser, J. D., Liden, R. C., & Hu, J. (2014). The relationship between leader-member exchange and job satisfaction: A meta-analysis. Journal of Applied Psychology, 99(5), 1-33. doi: 10.1037/a0036955
- Mackey, J. D., Frieder, R. E., Brees, J. R., & Martinko, M. J. (2020). Managing Up: A Conceptual Framework for Developing and Assessing Manager-Employee Relationships. Academy of Management Perspectives, 34(1), 84-102. doi: 10.5465/amp.2018.0187
- Knight, R. (2017). How to Build a Strong Relationship with a New Boss. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2017/06/how-to-build-a-strong-relationship-with-a-new-boss
- Gallo, A. (2015). How to Work with Someone You Don’t Like. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2015/04/how-to-work-with-someone-you-dont-like
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Gina is a certified executive coach specializing in helping business leaders and executives to revitalize their businesses by harmonizing, prioritizing, and strategizing their leadership. She has over three decades of experience in coaching, implementation, and execution and a Wharton MBA under her belt.
Gina’s holistic approach is comprehensive and covers various executive management positions such as sales, business development, HR, OD, marketing, client services, events, financial budgeting and planning, technology, and individual projects within corporate and small business settings. She helps break down strategy and business plans into actionable and achievable execution steps. Her dedication to continuous personal evolution and an extensive toolkit of continuous improvement strategies for her clients to create powerful cultural shifts.
When clients win, so do organizations.