Managing Up for Career Success

Managing Up for Career Success

Ask any career counselor or career coach, and they will tell you that the saying is true: People don’t quit their jobs. They quit their bosses. 

If your relationship with your boss is tense, uncomfortable, or even toxic, you’ll struggle to find satisfaction in your work, even if you’re doing what you love. Your performance will suffer, too — it’s impossible to do your best work when your time and energy are being siphoned off by a bad relationship. 

Having a collaborative, healthy relationship with the person who’s tasked with managing you makes work so much easier, not to mention opening doors for your professional development. You and your boss can accomplish more together than you could alone while helping each other move closer to your respective career goals. 

So, how can you build that kind of working relationship, or get things back on track if the relationship with your boss has taken a few hits? A strategy called “managing up” is helpful here, and that’s what we’re discussing on this episode of the podcast. 

My guest is Dr. Lisa S., Ph.D., LPC, CCC. She is a career counselor and career coach here at Growing Self who’s helped many clients adopt a “managing up” mindset, create better professional relationships and find genuine enjoyment on the job. Dr. Lisa is the past president of both the National Career Development Association and the Colorado Career Development Association, the former Director of Career Services at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the author of numerous book chapters on career and professional development counseling. Today, she shares her insight and advice with you. 

I hope you’ll tune into our conversation, all about building some incredibly useful skills that will give your career a major boost. You can tune in on this page, Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

With love, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

Managing Up for Career Success

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Managing Up for Career Success: Episode Highlights

When people talk about a “toxic work environment,” they’re not talking about asbestos in the walls or mold in the carpet. They’re talking about pollutants that have crept into their relationships with the people they work with (or, more often, for) — and the enormous emotional toll that can take

Relationships at work make the difference between a phenomenal job and a job you hate, and no working relationship is more impactful than the one you have with your boss. There is a built-in power dynamic between you and the person who’s managing you, which will only feel ok if there’s a lot of trust, respect, and goodwill on both sides. 

Creating a healthy relationship of any kind takes thought, intention, and some emotional intelligence, and you can’t take for granted that your manager will be able to create it for you. You need to be an active participant in building positive relationships at work, and in doing that well, you’re going to need to practice “managing up.”

What is Managing Up?

First, what managing up is not: It is not about making your boss like you, or trying to manipulate them to do what you want them to do. It is not about undermining your boss, or engaging in power struggles to flip the supervisor-supervisee dynamic on its head and wrest control away from them. 

Managing up is simply understanding your boss’s goals and how your own goals align with them and then working in a way that creates win-win outcomes for you both. It’s about strengthening your sense of teamwork and looking for opportunities to make your boss’s life easier — out of a genuine sense of care and respect. 

If you can figure out how to do this well, your working life is going to be much more enjoyable, and you’re going to have a much easier time accomplishing your career goals. If you can’t, you’re going to struggle, and your career path is not going to be easy. 

Managing up is a valuable skill to have, and one that’s worth honing if you haven’t already. 

How to Manage Up

A big component of managing up is helping your supervisor manage you. Most bosses want to be good bosses — they want to support the people they manage so that they produce good work that advances the organization's mission. They want to create an environment where people will come to them when there’s a problem, rather than trying to cover it up and make things worse. They want to grow and advance in their careers, and they want to foster growth and professional development in others. 

But people tend to be promoted to management positions because they’re high performers, not necessarily because they are already skilled at managing others. Your boss is engaged in the process of building their management skills (by managing you), and every manager you’ll have throughout your career will be at a different point in that process. Becoming a more manageable employee will make your boss’s life easier — and anything that makes your boss’s life easier makes your life easier. 

Open Communication

One of the best ways to help your boss manage you is to be intentional about how you’re communicating. What are your boss’s preferred channels of communication? How do they like to receive updates? How often would they like you to check in with them? If you don’t have the answers to these questions, ask, and then bring your own communication style in line with theirs. 

You should also be willing to provide your boss with appropriate feedback — not on their performance, but on how you’re working together. If they assign you a task that you really enjoy, let them know that. If there’s something they could do that would help you do better work, don’t be afraid to ask. 

You should also communicate with your boss about your personality and your working style, so they can understand you better and have a clearer picture of what would be supportive, and what would make your job more difficult. If you struggle to be productive when you have a lot of interruptions, your boss needs to know that. If you feel drained after meetings, it might be a good idea to communicate about scheduling meetings later in the day. 

Many managers will be proactive about starting these conversations with employees, but everyone has a different leadership style, and part of managing up is accepting and respecting those differences. If your boss doesn’t spend time talking with you about how you’re working together, then find a way to start the conversation yourself, without being pushy or intrusive. You might want to invite them to get coffee with you or schedule a special meeting to have this kind of conversation, so you can be sure that you’re not taking time away from other priorities. 

It might feel like “going with the flow” is the best way to get along with your boss (especially if you tend to be a bit of a people pleaser), but helping your boss help you creates better outcomes for you both while building a more authentic, positive relationship in the process. 

Understanding Your Boss

Helping your boss understand you is one part of managing up, but understanding your boss is just as important (if not more so). 

What are your boss’s ultimate career goals? What kind of support do they need from their team that they’re not currently getting? What are they excited about, and what problems are stressing them out and keeping them up at night? 

Your boss is a human, with dreams, frustrations, and an inner life as rich and varied as your own. If you can get some insight into who your boss is, and what they want (and what they want to avoid), then the path to supporting them will be much clearer for you. 

Of course, it would not be appropriate for you to push your boss to share more than they want to share. Every manager feels comfortable with a different level of openness, particularly with the people they supervise, and not respecting your boss’s boundaries won’t do anything to improve the relationship. But you can signal to your boss that you are willing to talk with them about these more vulnerable topics if they want simply by showing interest in their career goals, as well as what they’re working on and how things are going. As you build trust and rapport with your boss, they’ll likely let you in a little bit more, and you’ll find new ways to support them. 

The intention is not to gain information about your boss that will further your own goals, or that you can use to make your boss function in the way you think they should function. Instead, your goal is to build genuine understanding for the person you work for, which will make it easier for you to be helpful to them, naturally leading to your career growth. You’ll probably find that you have more positive feelings for your boss as well — it’s hard not to like someone when you truly understand them. 

Challenges to Managing Up

Certain traits make having a positive relationship with your boss more difficult. If you tend to be a people pleaser or a perfectionist, that can make it more difficult for you to be open with your boss about things that aren’t going well, which are ultimately the things they really need to know. As in all relationships, having a good relationship with your boss means being appropriately open and transparent. 

Office politics can present another major obstacle to managing up. If you’re tangled up in a snarl of inter-office conflict, your boss is likely to develop opinions about you that are influenced by the tricky dynamics you’re participating in, which are probably creating a lot of stress at work for your boss. Try to stay out of office politics as much as possible, and keep them out of your relationship with your boss. Don’t critique other employees to your boss, and certainly don’t criticize your boss in front of others. 

Many conscientious, super on-top-of-it people have pretty firm ideas about the “right way” to do things, which is a very helpful trait in some situations but can be a liability in others. At work, it can lead to a lot of disappointment, frustration, and resentment when other people have different ideas about how things should be done. 

Being tolerant and accepting of differences, especially your boss’s, is an essential skill for managing up and getting along well with other people in general. Your professional development process is really a personal development process; as you advance through the stages of your career, you’ll find new opportunities to grow as a person. 

Repairing Your Relationship With Your Boss

When the relationship with your boss has been rocky, getting it back on track can be hard, especially if you’re not sure what’s not working or what you may be doing wrong. 

If things are feeling bad and you’re not sure why, and you have already established a level of trust and rapport with your boss, you can say something like, “This isn’t feeling good for me right now. Let me know if there’s a way I can be supportive, or if I should do something differently.” 

That extends an invitation to your boss to address the problems in your relationship, without applying any pressure. You’re not saying “I won’t be happy unless you change.” You’re saying, “How can I be more helpful to you and make this situation better for us both?”

Building a Positive Work Environment by Managing Up

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably had some horrendous jobs, and some fantastic jobs and a healthy, positive, collaborative work environment is probably what made the difference. 

By adopting a “managing up” mindset, you empower yourself to be a part of creating that kind of environment. You don’t have to rely on your boss to do it, and you don’t have to quit your job every time you hit an interpersonal snag. You can be a part of building a win-win workplace where people feel supported and capable of doing their best work — and your career path will be smoother because of it. 

Other Podcasts Featuring Dr. Lisa Severy

If you enjoyed Dr. Lisa S.’s advice for managing up, check out the other Love, Happiness and Success episodes she’s appeared on, including our shows on “Starting a New Chapter” and “The Great Resignation.” 

Episode Show Notes:

[00:58] Managing Up

  • Developing genuinely positive relationships at work is very important to having a satisfying long-term career.
  • “Managing up” is a career development strategy involving good management traits to build a positive relationship with your boss.
  • If your goals aren’t aligned with your boss’s, you’re going to run into trouble. 

[14:19] What is Managing Up 

  • One way of managing up is helping your supervisor manage you by openly communicating with them about what you need, what’s working, and what isn’t. 
  • Inviting your supervisor to talk things through signals to them that you are invested in your relationship being a positive one. 
  • Most employees need to share their priorities and goals with their superiors but do not know their boss’s goals, tasks, and professional development. Look for ways to start that conversation. 

[24:15] What does Managing Up Mean 

  • Workplace problems typically involve secrecy. A lack of transparency will come back to bite somebody — usually, everyone involved.
  • Managing up creates a win-win environment where both you and your manager are more satisfied and successful.

[34:53] How to Manage Up at Work 

  • Creating a sense of community and being a part of a supportive environment is a component of managing up.
  • Anybody can be part of helping to create a positive culture within an organization.
  • Managing up also involves making others feel appreciated, respected, and supported.
  • Another piece of managing up is honoring and respecting workplace diversity in terms of communication, thinking, and relationship styles.

Music in this episode is by SAULT with their song “Free.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://saultglobal.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby (Host): This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, and you're listening to the Love, Happiness and Success podcast. Today, you'll learn how to maximize your professional pleasure and success by learning how to manage your relationship with your boss deliberately and with skill.

Are you bouncing right now? I'm bouncing. You can't not bounce when you're listening to Sault, and their amazing music. The song is called Read. You can learn much more about Sault and check out all of their awesome stuff on their Bandcamp page Sault Global, saultglobal.bandcamp.com. I chose this particularly empowering song for us today, because you've got this my friend, particularly when it comes to your career path. 

Managing Up for Career Success

Today's episode is going to teach you why and how to create a completely different next level of empowerment by learning how to manage up. On today's episode of the podcast, we're discussing a topic that can really boost your career, and also help you have a much better time while at work when you have certain skills around how to manage up. This is so important to know because many times we think of career pathing, career development as finding the right place, right? 

If only I could find the perfect situation, then everything would be easy and smooth sailing from here on out. What is really true in reality is that having a positive and satisfying career path is very much like having a great relationship, right? When we're dating and looking for love, we certainly do our best to find a really nice person who you can build a life with, and we don't just bail on that and jumped over into a ‘grass is greener’ kind of situation when the road gets a little bit rough. 

Instead, we know that in these situations, we need to dial it in and figure out okay, how do I have a really great relationship and a positive experience with this person. So, being able to develop genuinely positive relationships at work is a very important piece of having a satisfying career long term, and one particularly important aspect of this is how to have positive relationships with the people that you work for, so maybe managers, business owners, as well as colleagues. 

So when we talk about managing up, that's what we're describing a career development strategy that involves using good management traits to build positive relationships with your boss. People may be over you also laterally that benefits both of you. There are many different components to learning how to do this well, and so many benefits to investing in this area of professional growth. 

So, to join me in this conversation and share her vast wisdom and expertise, we’re once again chatting with my dear colleague, also Dr. Lisa, who is an amazing career coach, career counselor. She has so much experience in this field and is just so knowledgeable. She's the past President of the Career Coaching Association.

Dr. Lisa S. (Guest): The National Career Development Association.

Lisa (Host): National Career Development Association.

Lisa (Guest): My career family.

Lisa (Host): Dr. Lisa, thank you for joining me and and are there other things about your background or expertise that I maybe did not think to share that you think would be important for our listeners to know just to get a sense of who you are and what you have to offer here?

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, thank you, and thank you for the invitation. It’s always so much fun to chat with you. Yeah, I think, whether folks are going in to brand new position and sort of wanting to start off on the right foot, or are in that process of sort of struggling with what is going on here. This is not really working. I mean, I think this topic, we don't always frame it this way, but I feel like this topic and this struggle comes up with most clients that I work with and our previous conversation about the great resignation or the big quit or whatever we want to call it. 

This dynamic is a huge piece of why people leave. They may actually be in the right field in the right position at the right time, which there's a lot of variables but if the environment is not good, and for the most part, when we talk about environment, we're talking about relationships. So if those aren't good, so yeah, I would say I'm just in terms of that experience of working with clients who are working through this, I think that's probably the most relevant experience that I have, in terms of this topic. I mean, it impacts everybody. 

Lisa (Host): It really does, and really, that's why I wanted to talk with you because like, as a career coach, as you said, there's that like, career exploration piece, like what direction do I want to go and what are the strategies. 

But as a therapist who specializes in career counseling, you're coming at this from a much deeper sort of nuanced understanding, I think a lot of times, and really looking at those, the emotional impact of having difficult relationships with people and also, I think, are able to really go into some of the areas of like, personal growth that people need to develop in order to learn how to manage some of these relationships differently. I know that your clients benefit so much from that, that in depth approach. 

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, it’s fascinating. I mean, it is interesting, of course, when you start a conversation with a new person, and you're trying to get to know someone, but oftentimes, there's a frame that people have that ‘I used to love my job’. I don't know how I've changed, what's different, but I don't have that same response anymore. Often after just a little bit of conversation, like, they are working for a different person, or have different colleagues or whoever's in the cubicle next to you like, all of those pieces. 

I think, yeah, that makes the difference between a phenomenal job that you absolutely love, and then one that you get a little nauseous on Sunday night, because you have to go to work in the morning, and that's just an awful feeling. So, yeah, I do talk to people in transition, who are starting new jobs, about how to be proactive about setting up a good environment. I think, we call it managing up. A lot of people respond to that, not necessarily well, 

Lisa (Host): There's a bad way to say it?

Lisa (Guest): No, I don't think so at all. I think what people are thinking of when they do have a negative connotation, it's because they feel like they're set. We're talking about somehow manipulating your boss, and that is not it at all. So, I think that's important to get out there. In terms of a topic of yeah, we're not talking about sort of underhanded, kind of manipulation in terms of setting yourself up. 

I mean, we're talking about creating a partnership between yourself and especially a supervisor. I mean, generally, when we're talking about managing up, supervisor, or even a level above that, but we're really we're not talking about trying to supervise your own boss, that never works.

Lisa (Host): I could use a little bit of supervision personally.

Lisa (Guest): All right, we can take that offline. 

Lisa (Host): Thank you. I’ll schedule your earliest available meeting. Okay. So, you're saying that it doesn't mean supervising your boss, and thank you to, by the way, even just for sharing the feedback that there are negative connotations that there is some mythology around it as being like manipulative or just I was not even aware of that possible interpretation. But so, you're saying that it has a bad rap and that it's quite a positive thing?

Lisa (Guest): Exactly. Yeah, so it's basically kind of taking ownership back and redefining what that actually looks like. I'm sure we all have examples of when we've seen something like this, that doesn't go well. People who are basically just going above their boss's head really not accounting for interpersonal differences. I mean, everybody has a leadership style. Our colleagues have leadership styles, and sometimes those are a great fit, sometimes not. 

So, that's really what it's talking about that the ultimate goal, I think, that we're talking about is win-win. That your boss is doing well. You're contributing to that success, and you're recognized for that success. So, you really feel that sense of teamwork, and across the board, whether it's peer colleagues or bosses who are applying, the more that everybody's focused on the mission, whatever their own needs and goals are. 

But as long as those things are aligned, then it's a positive experience for everybody. It runs into trouble when there's that lack of alignment where an employee is trying to work one way, the supervisors trying to work another way. Maybe, the mission is lost in that process. So, the more purposeful I think people can be about how they approach supervisors, managers, whatever the case may be, so that you can come into alignment. 

There is absolutely nothing wrong with an employee doing that with a supervisor. I think sometimes we rely on supervisors and managers and leaders to provide that sort of leadership, but everybody has different skills. I don't think collectively, we do a great job of training supervisors. We just tend to promote high performers, and who may have no skill in that area. So, if you can kind of become your own best career manager, then you can spark those conversations and make sure that you're well connected with your boss.

Lisa (Host): I love your perspective too. I think I'm hearing you say that it's like becoming empowered to design the experience that you're having in a workplace, like I thought it was so interesting. What you said, a couple of minutes ago that very frequently, you'll meet with a new career counseling client who's like, “I don't know, I'm just not feeling it anymore.” When you dig in, that it sounds like very often, it's not necessarily that they're in the wrong career, or that they've changed and grown, it's really that these relationships have gotten out of alignment, or they're different. 

It's not the career necessarily, but the way that they're handling those interactions. That by being empowered, and understanding that you do have opportunities to change the relationship with your boss, as opposed to kind of being a passive recipient of however they want to handle things with you that you really have much more control, and it is for your own benefit. Like if you can figure out how to do that well, you're going to have a better time and more career satisfaction.

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, exactly. Of course, it's on the long list of things that are really easy to say and really hard to do, especially because, of course, there's a power dynamic there. When when you're talking about a manager or supervisor, there is usually some sort of evaluation process that goes into it and all of those pieces. So, as with any relationship, you're the relationship expert, but as with any relationship is a two way street, right? 

Both parties have to be interested in that, and there has to be a level of trust there in order to do it. That's why I say sometimes it's a little bit easier at the beginning, because if you establish what that's going to look like, that level of transparency, and just being able to share with that supervisor, what that looks like. I mean, part of that is the big picture, like you shouldn't be the only one concerned about your own career, your supervisor should be invested in that as well. 

So if you invite that from the very beginning and share some of the things that are important to you and will help you be most productive and those pieces, most people are pretty responsive to that. Of course, there are always situations where you're never going to be able to sort that out, right? As I said, the other person has to meet you halfway. Unfortunately, there are supervisors, for whatever reason, who can't get there, can’t do that for you. 

So, that's when yeah, maybe a career transition is the best thing to do. We all have to take care of ourselves. But, I do think if those patterns are established, where you're talking about that, you're talking about what you love, what's frustrating, what kind of support you need from the beginning, anytime, that as a supervisor, I don't have to guess what you need. You've already told me. That's wonderful. Then, that actually makes my job easier, and I think in general, anytime you can make your boss's life easier. It's probably good for both of you.

What is Managing Up 

Lisa (Host): Well, this is so interesting, because those are some of my next questions for you is what does this involve? Like, what does managing up even look like? What are the different components of it? I think what I was just hearing you say is that one piece of managing up and having a successful relationship here is helping your supervisor manage you by openly really communicating. 

Here are the things that work for me. Here are the things that don't work for me. Here's what I would love to have more of, less of. Here are my goals. Is that what you're saying?

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, and starting with even mode of communication, so what is my communication style? What's my preferred communication? There's personality type and preferences, and I love doing those types of workshops with groups because it's not a judgment of ‘Well, I prefer introverts or extroverts,’ but any good team needs all kinds, right? So, the success is often based on the diversity of a team and all different kinds of ways. 

But, knowing that about each other, knowing if you're a very detailed person versus a big picture person can really change that communication dynamic. The more that people really get to know each other and feel comfortable sharing is really helpful. And I wonder sometimes, I don't know this, for sure, but I wonder sometimes, especially new supervisors, new to the role, don't really feel comfortable, like asking too many of those types of questions, because maybe it's too personal. 

But if I'm up front and I share, look, I'm introverted. I'm a big picture thinker. I tend to make decisions with my heart over my head. I like planning, not so great with the last minute emergency types of situations. But those types of things, if you are offering those up, then it wouldn't matter if they felt like they don't want to ask those questions if they're too personal. 

So, I think really those communication style, preferences and personality preferences in terms of the way people work, like, the more you know about your teammates in terms of those, including your team leaders, the more successful you will collectively be and of course, more people thrive when their group is thriving.

Lisa (Host): Okay, well, you'll have to excuse me. I'm already thinking about the next podcast topic I'd like for you to come back and speak with us about which is developing leadership skills and really how to be an effective leader. Like just what you were saying, really making it a point to do group activities where people are getting to know each other is a fairly recent thing for me, but over the last couple of years with our kind of core admin team have made it a practice of doing personality assessments. 

I don't know if you're familiar with the Colby assessment. Oh, it's really neat. It's like approaches to work, working styles on like different domains, like exactly like how you're saying, detail oriented versus more flexible and kind of free thinking and approaches to like how you get things done. I found this to be incredibly helpful for me, as well as our group, I think. 

But, I'm hearing you say, though, that if you are in a situation where your manager isn't initiating that, and offering that it could be not just a good idea, but also appropriate for you to initiate some of that. Of course, I heard you say, not everybody's going to be open to it, but to be like asking those questions. I've just had a curiosity, have you ever taken the Myers Briggs to your supervisor, like those kinds of conversations to take the word that's coming to mind is control that is not the right word, to take initiative to do that together?

Lisa (Guest): Yeah. Because I think depending on the situation and same thing, it could be that you're really talking about somebody that you've worked with, or for a long period of time. But, it's so easy to get hung up in the details. We're hired for a particular job, and sometimes, as counselors, that does overlap with those personal characteristics and the job itself, but for most people, it doesn't. 

So, if you're in computer technology, you're talking about specific work tasks, as part of, for example, a supervisor meeting, and you don't want to derail that or give the impression with a supervisor that that's not important to you, because, of course, it's important to you. So sometimes, I think it can be a helpful strategy to actually request, our supervisory meetings are really helpful, and it helps me to prioritize my tasks and get them in order. 

I wonder if there's a time that we could schedule a separate meeting to talk about performance issues, if there are any, and style, work style differences, the things that I do that are helpful to you, the things that maybe are frustrating, like those types of things. Again, it's kind of an invitation for a different kind of conversation because it's so easy to get into. They're not the weeds because they're the priorities of the job, but it's different. 

So to kind of set a time, it could even be, can we go grab coffee sometimes or in a virtual environment, can we both bring a coffee to zoom, whatever the case may be. But, that kind of invitation is there. I think there's an element to it of that invitation process of telling your supervisor that you are invested in your relationship being a positive one, and that you recognize that it's a both end. 

If I'm going to be successful, you need to be successful, and how do we make that partnership work on an interpersonal level. So, I think that might open a door sometimes when, as they said, oftentimes, if you're doing quick check ins, they're going to be focused on content as they should be.

Lisa (Host): Yeah. Even though, that is often the point of work, so much is missed if we're not also talking about how are we doing once in a while. I love what you're saying, so that in addition to helping your supervisor understand you, to also really be initiating conversations around, how do you feel about our relationship? What else can I be doing more of, less of, differently in order to make this feel easier and better for you, Mr. or Ms. Supervisor?

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, absolutely. I think that's one of those personal style differences that can make a huge difference. If you have a very task oriented supervisor and you are very relationship oriented person, you can clash without meaning to. Like, everyone has the best intention. Rapport is okay, for lack of a better term. But yeah, there seems to be that sort of disconnect to really help. 

Oftentimes, we're set up in a situation where we're supposed to share with our bosses our priorities and our goals and what those look like, but we may have no idea what our supervisor’s goals and tasks, and professional development, what they look like. Like, we're not taught to share that way, but it would be incredibly helpful to know what your boss is like. What are my bosses' pressure points? 

What are the things that's making, whether it's me or somebody else, frustrating that person? Because there may be some things once you know an issue, that you can be really helpful with that. Again, not in a kind of manipulative way, but just tell me, what keeps you up at night? What are the pieces? Because I think, in addition to the development role, that supervisors should have, again, not everybody does, but if they adopt that. 

I think there's also sometimes with supervisors, they make judgment calls all day about what should I share with my team, because they want to be transparent, but at the same time, protect them from some of the political, financial, any of those kinds of things. So, strike a balance between transparency, and scaring the heck out of everybody all the time. People have to make that judgment. 

So if the invitation is there to say, “I can handle it,” “I want to be an ally to you.” If you do want to share some of your other kind of challenges or struggles that even if it's just brainstorming, we can talk a little bit about I would love that. But again, an invitation not a ‘you should share more with me’. You don't want to come across as telling someone, their job or what to do if it's your supervisor. But, just that sense of I want to be your teammate as much as I want you to be mine.

Lisa (Host): Yeah, that's such a lovely sentiment, and I think anybody hearing that would appreciate it. Like, we're on the same team. We're doing this together. Tell me about your goals and other things that I might not know about so that I can be helpful to you in this sort of shared mission we have. 

Lisa (Guest): Absolutely, yeah. 

What does “Managing Up for Career Success” Mean?

Lisa (Host): So well, let's just keep going. I mean, I'm sure that there are many other strategies and kind of things involved when it comes into this concept of of managing up, and I'd like to hear about those. I'm also starting to think though of a dynamic that I have seen some times where particularly people that have like kind of people pleasing tendencies, or tend to, maybe, struggle a little bit with like being appropriately assertive in relationships can feel like. 

As employees, they may need to like hide things from a supervisor or that academia can tap into some of that like perfectionism stuff. Like I need to be perfect and not rock the boat and not make any waves and sort of say the right thing and kind of be soothing and pacifying this person. I think without there necessarily being a basis in reality a lot of times. Like I think many times people are carrying their attachment styles and other like earlier life experiences into what, even though like, intellectually, we know it's not a parental relationship. 

I think that energetically and kind of subconsciously, we can start to interact with our supervisors in a little bit of a parental role, whether or not we're conscious of it. So, I have seen this and had have to work with clients around it. I just want to talk a little bit about, again, going back to that central idea of what managing up is, and what it isn't, just to be really clear about that kind of dynamic. 

I mean, what would your advice be, if you were talking to somebody who's maybe projecting some things onto their employer and engaging in like not talking about stuff or like working really hard to manage a relationship that is probably safer than they think it is? What would your thoughts be there?

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, I think that's a dynamic actually that happens a lot. I don't know if you're familiar with Clifton Strengths, but there's one that shows up.

Lisa (Host): What is it? 

Lisa (Guest): Oh, it's wonderful. It's a strengths based assessment. You can find it online and get it directly from them. But, it highlights, I can't remember exactly how many the list is, but basically, it highlights your top five. It's interesting to me, because some of them are values based, some interest based, some are more personal style. So, the word strength kind of encompasses a whole lot of different things, but there's one that usually pops up pretty high for me. 

It's not my top five, but it's called harmonizer. It can serve me in a lot of different ways. It's good, but in the way that you're talking about, there is that opportunity where to avoid conflict or minimize conflict, or can't we all just get along? So, it's one of those they talk about sort of like you can use this as a strength, but there's usually a shadow side to most strengths. That can be one of them. 

So, I think part of it is the idea of managing up is not covering things up first of all. Like when there are problems that usually any kind of secrecy around it, just a general lack of transparency is going to come back to bite somebody, and usually it's you or your supervisor, which in turn, then bites you too. So, those kinds of pieces are good to know. I mean, every organization has politics, and that inner office kind of politics, I think. 

As much as possible, we should all just try and stay out of that. But, it happens in every kind of environment, doesn't matter where you are. Trying to keep that outside of your relationship is helpful as well. Because the idea is not to help, the goal is not to help your manager be a better manager, like that is somebody else's job. It's on them, and it's on their supervisor, whoever that may be, and what that looks like. 

The question is more about trying to maximize your relationship with that person. So, anytime that you're being really selective about what you share, even if it's a challenge of yours, or yeah, there's some other dynamic between other peers that are involved and you sort of get dragged into it. Those things are not going to be helpful in terms of managing up and certainly things like this is where the manipulative stuff comes in. 

Like challenging your boss's decisions or actions, especially in front of other people or whatever that looks like. Like, that's not an element of what we're talking about. When we talk about managing up, there are ways to provide and if your managers up to it, certainly there ways to provide feedback to them that hopefully does increase the value of your relationship, because they know you're a trusted colleague, but doing it in a way that is not political and is not manipulative, and to them directly, right? 

So, it's not in public. Certainly, really good managers have a new idea comes up, they're open to feedback, like well, interesting idea, but, I'm curious about this, or this doesn't seem to fit. There are appropriate ways of providing that feedback. But if you really feel strongly about a decision or an action that your supervisor has taken, and you really want to have a conversation about it, take that offline, if you will, and be able to have that so that it really is, again, a supportive relationship rather than an underhanded kind of feel.

Lisa (Host): Yeah, I think I've been interpreting this like, or that any–and I love the way you said it out loud. You are not there to make your manager function better, that is somebody else's job. You are not there to control them, or certainly not try to change their behavior in ways that don't feel good to them, and are the opposite of managing up which is destructive to the relationship. Anything that you're doing that makes your supervisor feel bad is the opposite of what we want to be doing.

Lisa (Guest): Absolutely, yeah. It's interesting because there's a fine line, just as you were talking about, with some of those when it does become difficult, right, on both sides. I think it becomes harder to do that, because you don't want to say the wrong thing if that person is already really stressed out. Like, what is going to help them versus continue with the dynamic, and sometimes it's really hard to sort out, especially if you're talking about a person who is not themselves in a really good spot. 

Maybe, they feel vulnerable in their position. I really feel in general, middle management is the hardest place to be in because you have to manage up and you have to manage the people that you're responsible for. So, I think assuming that we don't have a clue what's going on for that person, or some personal thing, family emergency, like you never know what's going on with that person. 

So, it is definitely the long game in terms of that, establishing that trust and rapport. So that one, you know okay, this is out of character. I'm not feeling really good right now about my relationship, but it's a typical, so I'm just gonna assume something else is going on. Or if you've established that level of trust and rapport, that you can just say, this doesn't feel good to me right now. I don't know what's going on. 

But if I can be helpful, or if I should be doing something differently, let me know, and just leaving it at that, so that the invitation’s there, the doors open, but you're not putting any pressure. Pressuring up is not a great idea, not a good strategy. 

Lisa (Host): Yeah, definitely. It's like you're essentially starting to, well, at least trying to create an emotionally safe relationship with your supervisor to kind of enter the ring with you while you certainly can't make somebody open up or kind of have that meaningful conversation. There are things that you can do that open the door, extend the invitation, and that's worthwhile.

Lisa (Guest): Absolutely, very well said. Yeah, I think that that's a big, just sort of that piece of it so that it's hard to describe, but that you're not pressuring in some way, some other expectation that, well, I won't be happy unless you tell me everything, but that the door is open. No. That level is there. Let me know how I can be supportive. I've always thought, in my own, when I've had a supervisor or boss that in a way, my job is to make my boss's life easier. 

It's just kind of because, again, that comes back to me. It's not completely unselfish, because if that's all working well, then that's good for me, too. But at times, when there's been conflict, we all have career trauma. Every single one of us, and that managing that piece is more about that sense of, sort of, again, the alignment. We're rowing in the same direction. Again, if the team is successful, then the leader is successful, then the people on the team are successful. 

The more often we can create those win-win environments, the more satisfied and successful will be in our careers. I think that only relying on a supervisor to do that, to provide that environment, to guide that, we're missing an opportunity that we as team members can be a part of that building of an environment where we're satisfied and successful.

How to Manage Up at Work

Lisa (Host): That's such an empowering message. Are there other strategies so I've heard you talk a lot about out communication and having authentic, vulnerable, courageous conversations with people to really talk about that and to also kind of approach these relationships with really positive intentions, that how can I help? Are there other specific skills or strategies you seen people or teams use that also foster these kinds of outcomes? Or is it really just around those conversations?

Lisa (Guest): That's a really good question. I think a good portion is about the conversations and learning more about people and their work style, and again, generally focus on work related things, but there's also that sense of community. I think that is really important. Again, most of us have had experiences where we're working in an environment that's very collaborative and community based, that's what I love about Growing Self, very strong sense of community and mutual support. 

Most of us have had experience with the opposite, where you don't have that sense, either. Sometimes during COVID, it was just a matter of where we are all isolated, literally isolated from each other, that was the point. But in a more sort of typical period of time in our lives that just don't have that, I don't feel like the my colleagues know me or really care about me or care to get to know me at all. 

Certainly, when that's happening in a supervisor-supervisee relationship, that's even more so. So, I think those side things of recognizing birthdays, and really, the most important times, I think, in any kind of employment situations, are bringing people on board, and then helping them to leave either through retirement or new job. Everybody notices the way that we say goodbye to people, too. 

I mean, it contributes to that culture. So, I think that's one of the things, again, if you've been in it, then when you are put into a leadership position, you emulate those things. You tried to create that environment, too. If you're a supervisor that's never really had that, maybe that wouldn't be top of your radar because you wouldn't know.

Lisa (Host): Yeah, I'm thinking that oh, like we parent, the way that we're parented. Subconsciously, we supervise the way that we have been supervised, automatically, and that you can do some manual overrides there on both of both directions, but that's also a very compassionate way of looking at it, and just this recognition that many people in management or supervisory situations have not had the mentorship and kind of those positive experiences to be able to know what to do differently many times.

Lisa (Guest): For the most part, as far as with everything, like, we tend to know, the things we don't like much more easily or how to create that environment. So usually if we've been in that situation, I remember thinking to myself, okay, if I'm ever in a leadership position, I will not do that. Those things are a little bit more concrete, right? Because as you say, I love that, manual override, like that's exactly it. 

But for the most part, we think about this is such a supportive, lovely environment. I am sure it didn't happen by accident. So thinking about the various things, how do we know that? what, What contributes to that sense of things and trying to create that environment? Again, I mean, it's wonderful if that can come from leadership, but it doesn't have to. I mean,  somebody who was more sort of tied in with birthdays and things like that, who can put it in or other life transition, somebody's having a baby or getting married or going through something very traumatic, that those creating that environment. 

Again, it seems kind of funny that and then, it makes it easier to talk to your supervisor like of course it does, because it makes it easier to talk to everybody. That sense of mutual interest, not just in a work environment, but as a person, and if nothing else, the great resignation has taught us that it's really attending to people's needs as a person are as important as attending to their needs as an employee. 

Again, I hope that and people should feel empowered to help contribute to that. That if they're 100% dependent on their supervisor to provide it and then they're probably always going to be disappointed.

Lisa (Host): Yeah, that's such a great perspective. I just love what you're saying that particularly in work environments, it's so easy to get focused on the work part and miss like the fabric of a relationships and of a community that really hold the whole thing together, and that has nothing to do with the work. Well, I mean, certainly how we approach work together as a team, but really around those soft skills, the invisible parts. 

I love your message here, which is that anybody really can become an activist, essentially, for the creation of a positive culture within an organization, and in some ways, certainly it's doing things to make others feel appreciated, and respected and supportive, but that it also really like creates a positive environment that that is good for everybody, including you.

Lisa (Guest): Absolutely, yeah. I think part of that, too, I mean, the research is all there in terms of that actually makes them more productive team, because it's easy to think, well, if you're spending all your time kind of on relationship building, and those those kinds of pieces. So yes, of course, the work comes first, like the task piece has to be there, but the research is clear that people who are working in a mutually supportive environment and that attends to that sense of community. 

Those pieces are more productive communities, than the ones where everybody's head down and just focused on the task at hand. So yeah, more and more people, there's more information that comes out about that, because people are trying to figure out how to generate that in a virtual community, since more and more of us are working that way. But, I love it, because it basically is acknowledging that that piece is important, and it's important to most everybody. 

Of course, everybody has their styles and their own culture, so we're not talking about pushing different things on folks that may not be part of their culture, and it may make people uncomfortable. It's more figuring out what are the cultural norms for us as a group and a team that can create that environment where we're mutually supportive and helpful of each other, and people feel open asking for help, or advice or support, same thing. If there is that across the team, then of course, the supervisor is going to be involved in that as well.

Lisa (Host): Well, that's a great reminder, too. That sometimes in our desire to create change in organizations or in relationships, we can develop very strong ideas about the way things should be. If only people did it this way, then everything would be better, and maybe not recognizing that in the process of that, there can be some judgment around other people's way of being or even criticism that creates an emotionally unsafe environment, paradoxically, which is exactly the thing that you're trying to not do. 

So, I really love that reminder is to be honoring and respectful of the fact that people do have a lot of diversity in terms of their communication styles and thinking styles and orientation to relationships, and to be very careful that we're inclusive in the sense of allowing for diversity of thought and different ways of relating along the way of creating a positive environment. Because without that, that's the irony here, speaks for itself.

Lisa (Guest): That's really well said, and especially important on the topic of managing up, because same thing, it's so common. Especially if there's awkwardness around, this was a position you applied for as well, and now, you have a new boss instead, and what that looks like. But yeah, I mean, in terms of that piece moving forward of remembering all of those things as well. 

Like your boss will not do things exactly the way that you want them to be done. They may have a different culture, a different way of doing things. Starting from the openness of this may be a phenomenal fit for you even though it's very, very different. So I think there's also that sense of that transparency is also the openness to even if this person does it differently, that's okay, too. 

That we can be open to that piece, because I think, if you have in your mind, this is what this should all look like, you're going to be disappointed and probably frustrated with that person, even though that's not really their fault, because, I mean, this situation was kind of a setup. So, that's why I think sometimes there's this negative sort of approach to it. I think it's more like that, where a situation of I'm gonna sort of trick this person into doing things the way I want them to be done, and that's not the goal. 

It is, as you said, like the more establishment of a relationship and a mutual understanding more than sort of we're going to do it my way or I'm going to be unhappy.

Lisa (Host): Definitely. Good advice for any relationship, for sure. Yeah. Before we close, I want to mention one more thing that I have noticed having a really positive impact, at least from my perspective on the people that I work with, and I just want to mention it now because I'm afraid, well, maybe there will be other opportunities if we talk about leadership skills in a future episode, which I would absolutely love to do. 

But, I noticed something really interesting. When I began asking people on our team to do like a little pre-meeting check in form thing before our one on one meetings, and it was so interesting. I did this to help me stay on track and on topic and making sure that we're talking about important things, because I struggle in this area. But, what was so interesting is that, whereas previously in some of our one on one meetings, we had very positive conversations. 

We're talking like things are good things are going well. When people have the opportunity to communicate things in writing, prior to our meeting, I started hearing about a lot of other things that were not, not like terrible, and my takeaway is that, I think that even though I try so hard, obviously, to create emotionally safe relationships with people, to do that face to face can sometimes just feel challenging, or like in the moment, we're having a nice time. 

So, people don't want to talk about hard things. I just wanted to share that strategy, because particularly in the context of a power dynamic, both for employees and employers, if there's a way to be able to do some of this in writing, I think it can feel safer to say the things that you want to say. You'll have the opportunity to kind of think through it and make sure that you're saying it how you want to say it, like using those emotional intelligence skills and being intentional about your language. 

But also, I think, for a supervisor, to have some time to digest it and maybe not react in the moment and lessen the likelihood of potentially having it. I mean, I hate to use the word negative. But, sometimes when people are caught by surprise about things, they can become defensive, or other things, that is not really helpful. But when they have a little bit more time to digest, and it's so funny. 

Because for the longest time, I had couples sometimes write letters to each other to communicate things, it was difficult for them to talk about. But, I think that there's this really powerful application of this in a work environment, too. So, I just wanted to throw out that tip, that writing could potentially be as helpful. 

Lisa (Guest): Yeah, absolutely. That's really interesting. I think probably goes back to some of those pieces of being a harmonizer, right? So if you're asked point blank, you're sitting across from someone, can be okay, I need to open this door, but I don't really know how to do it, but it's so constructive, right? If you don't know that there's something going on, there's no way you can address it, so that invitation is there, but it's not anonymous, right? 

I mean, certainly, that's been the shadow side of some stuff on the internet, where yes, it's easier, too. Then, you might say, or do things in writing that you wouldn't otherwise do, especially if it's anonymous, and then people get mean. But in that sense, where it is an open communication, but it's sort of planting a seed. So you can say, something I'd like to talk about is x, right? 

Yeah. So, you're not sort of confronting someone with it, but just sort of sharing that it's been a challenge, and how that's framed. I think that's yeah, that's a phenomenal idea. Both in terms of that, I mean, I don't know why that couldn't also be sort of put forward by an employee. Like we have our one on one tomorrow, I thought I would share that my agenda items are these three things, and I look forward to hearing what your agenda items are, or if you want to send them ahead. 

But same thing, you don't need to necessarily wait for your supervisor to prompt that you could do that yourself and see how it goes. Like, I'm a big believer and just research trying things. Well, that didn't work. Move on to something new, but you never know. Yeah, something like that ended up having a big impact and was kind of an idea that you floated for a while. That's phenomenal, right? Some of the best strategies come out of those types of things.

Lisa (Host): Yeah, 100%. I was not expecting that I thought that there would just be bullet points and we'd know what to talk about, and there was all this other stuff, which I thought was fantastic, so that was really, really great rate. Anyway, well, I'm also so grateful for you Lisa. Thank you so much for spending this time. What a fun conversation and just thank you for sharing all of these wonderful ideas and just such like a positive and empowering message that I know is going to benefit so many people who hear it.

Lisa (Guest): Thank you. Thank you. Yes, it's always fun to have a good conversation with you.

Lisa (Host): Oh, you have a good time. Well, thank you again so much for today, and I look forward to our next conversation. I'll be back in touch soon. 

Lisa (Guest): Sounds good to me. 

Lisa (Host): So much good advice. If you would like more of Dr. Lisa's career advice, I'd invite you to check out a couple other podcasts we did, one on how the great resignation is your great opportunity and also one about how to create a new chapter in life. You can find both of those by scrolling back through my podcast feed and also certainly learn more about Dr. Lisa at growingself.com

Okay, so thank you so much for joining us today, and here is more Sault for your listening pleasure. Learn more about Sault, check out their albums find out whether or not they are on tour currently. Sault Global, saultglobal.bandcamp.com. Thanks everyone. I'll see you next time. 

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