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Managing Up? Use Caution.

Managing Up” is a great catch phrase and an interesting concept – it’s also a practice that can get you in deep trouble rather quickly if misunderstood or misapplied. Many people would say the purpose of managing-up is to have the by-product of your efforts enhance the work of those you report to. While I have nothing against this concept (I call it doing your job), I do have a problem with the reality that many practitioners of managing-up miss the point altogether. When the practice of managing up gets confused with promotion of self-interest, brown-nosing, deceit, manipulation, the gymnastics of corporate climbing, or other mind games, a good theory rapidly becomes twisted resulting in a false and dangerous reality.

While the premise of “managing-up” is sound, the reality of how it’s most commonly implemented is representative of everything that’s wrong with business today. It’s human nature to attempt to control circumstances where possible. It’s also quite normal to desire to position yourself well with those you report to. That said, it’s important to understand the realities, rules and boundaries associated with organizational structure. Newsflash – as much as you don’t want to hear this, there is a good reason why you’re reporting to someone else – you’re probably not ready to be the boss yet.

Here’s the thing – the best way to be looked upon favorably by those you report to is not through various charades and other forms of skulduggery, but by simply doing your job and serving them well. When the emphasis of your efforts shifts away from others and to yourself you have placed yourself on a very slippery slope. If you want to move up in the organization let it be the quality of your work that catapults you upward, not your skill in manipulation. If your timetable for career acceleration isn’t matching up with that of your employer, surface your concerns with them in a straight-forward fashion, don’t revert to amateurish corporate hi-jinks.

If I might be so bold, it’s not your job to manage your boss. Most good leaders love to be challenged, but I don’t know to many who like to think their being managed by subordinates – there’s a subtle but distinct difference. Your responsibility is to do the job the way those above you want it done, not how you want to do it. Granted, in a perfect world there would be alignment between the two, but alas, the world is not perfect. When it comes to enhancing the efforts of those above you, I would encourage you to think about it like this:

  • Engage – Yes
  • Collaborate – Yes
  • Challenge – When needed
  • Advise – Where appropriate and value is added
  • Object – When it’s the right thing to do
  • Loyalty – Until it’s no longer earned (if you can’t be loyal – go work for someone else)
  • Manage – NEVER

There is little debate that some subordinates are more intelligent and gifted than those above them. In fact, if you’re lucky enough to be considered a high potential in your organization, you might want to give your boss some credit as the best leaders make every attempt at building their organizations with people who are brighter and more talented than they are. This is a laudable practice that should be admired by workers, not resented. If your work doesn’t speak for itself, or if it does and isn’t being recognized, rather than play silly games, move on honorably and look for a better fit.


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    Dan Collins

    May 19, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    “When the emphasis of your efforts shifts away from others and to
    yourself you have placed yourself on a very slippery slope. If you want
    to move up in the organization let it be the quality of your work that
    catapults you upward.”

    Hear, Hear Mike. – If any of us does our job well enough it doesn’t stay hidden for very long. Bottom line? Managing up, by it’s very nature assumes, that we should handle the perceptions those above us have of our capabilities rather than letting the actions, behaviors and results speak for themselves. It’s kind of like espousing and spinning our achievements and character rather than letting others speak of them. It seems to me that our actions should speak so loudly that others can’t hear what we say.


      Mike Myatt

      May 20, 2011 at 2:12 pm

      Actions over rhetoric – well said Sir. Thanks for your concise commentary – always a pleasure Dan. 



    May 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

    I can’t argue with your ‘honor to whom honor is due’ stance. I also deplore game playing and subterfuge and appreciate your call for straight up behavior at all times. Still, moving on may not always be a viable option where loyalty is abused. As you’ve aptly said, ‘alas, it’s not a perfect world’. For such, I still believe there’s an honorable course – however difficult it may be to discern. After all, Obadiah was able to serve honestly in the court of King Ahab.
    I commend you on a very thought provoking post. This one kept me up thinking. (I love it when something’s that challenging). I’d only offer, as counterpoint, a mainlinemedia blog I read recently called ‘I’m Not a Good Team Player … And That’s a Good Thing’.


      Mike Myatt

      May 20, 2011 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Ron:

      Thanks for sharing your observations. I’ll check out the blog you mentioned over the weekend. Always appreciate your insights Ron. 


    Wally Bock

    May 20, 2011 at 12:38 pm

    Excellent points, Mike. My own thought is that anything that
    takes your eye off the performance ball is probably not a good thing for you or
    the team you’re a part of. That’s what you’re there to do.


      Mike Myatt

      May 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm

      Thanks Wally – You and I are like minded when it comes to not getting caught up in the burgeoning number of workplace distractions. Great reminder Wally… 


    Mike Henry Sr.

    May 25, 2011 at 1:56 pm

    I like how you called it “doing your job.”  I don’t like calling it managing up either.  We earn the opportunity to influence how our leaders interact with and lead us by the quality of our job and by the purity of our motives.  If we’re doing anything with our managers for our own benefit rather than for the good of the organization, we should expect detrimental career consequences.


      Mike Myatt

      May 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm

      Concur with all points – well said, Sir.

      Thanks Mike.

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