You’re used to taking orders from your boss – that’s called managing down. Your boss hands down work for you to do or perform. Tasks to be completed. You take that direction as why you’re at your job – to do work. That’s what you do. That’s why you get a pay check – because you’re there to get some sort of work done and this applies to all jobs.
So what are you supposed to do if you want to move up or advance? Well, you’ve got to first take care of business. You need to be at least maintaining the standard of your employment and fulfill whatever role you are paid to perform. That’s number one.
Number two, you have to be proficient enough at number one such that you have some time and space to think about how things could be different or improved. You’ve got to get your minimum amount of work done in enough time that you have some leftover time to consider different alternatives or improvements on whatever it is that you are currently doing.
At this point (or really from your first day on the job) it is critical that you begin a conversation with your boss and start a dialogue. Ideally, you will have already started doing this from you first day of employment. If you started a new job recently, make sure that you’re checking in with your boss at least a few days a week if not daily. Give your boss an idea of how you’re doing, ask for feedback or clarification and ask how they’re doing. Find out about them too – Hey boss, what are you working on? How are things going for you? What are the challenges you are dealing with right now? What about our work is keeping you up at night?
A Person Who Has Feelings
These are examples of different things you can ask if you are just getting started in trying to establish a connection with your boss. Think about it this way – your boss is a person too. They have feelings and thoughts and concerns just like you do. They just deal with different things at work than you do and are likely in a different position in life, but either way they’re a person all the same. It’s called emotional intelligence and I’ll get into that more at another time in another blog post. For the purpose of managing up, managing your boss, you must start from a place of mutual respect and cooperation and you must share a mutual concern for making things better.
In getting to know your boss and your boss to know you, you’re trying to figure out if this is a person that wants to make things better. What are the problems my boss is dealing with and what is my boss doing to fix those problems? By having a conversation with your boss about these things you’re learning what it’s like to be in their shoes. You’re learning how they think and what it’s like to be in their position.
Maybe after listening to what it is that your boss deals with you decide you DON’T want to be the boss one day. Maybe you like just punching in and out, doing your job and not having to deal with the pressure your boss has to face on a daily basis – and that’s OK! Not everyone is happy dealing with those types of responsibilities. Maybe you really like your job and can’t see yourself doing anything other than what it is that you’re doing? That’s great! You can still manage up – and this is especially important if you love your job and need something to improve your performance.
Managing up is important because it is a way to get what you need in order to improve. Managing up means convincing your boss that you have an idea that’s worth exploring and something that will make the company or the team better. Maybe you need a new desk. Maybe you need a bigger travel budget so you can get in front of more recruits. Maybe you need an assistant to take care of smaller tasks so you can focus on what’s most important. Maybe your strengths make your current job seem mundane when you really belong in another department doing a different job.
Whatever the change you want to make, if you don’t have some level of rapport with your boss, you won’t be able to manage up and get what you need in order to make things better. Your boss will manage you and inform you of what they think you’re doing well and what needs improvement (hopefully) and you should be thinking about how you can do the same with your boss. Be careful though…if you just jump right in and tell your boss everything you think they need to fix you might find yourself out on the curb with a box. Take it one step at a time and start a conversation.
One of the most powerful things you can do with a person is just talk. Go talk. Get them alone either at lunch or in a scheduled out meeting and tell them what’s going on with you. Ask them what’s going on with them. If you’re experience dissatisfaction at work, you have to talk to someone. If it is unsafe at work to talk about what you are experiencing, usually there is a Human Resources department that can help you with that. If you work for a smaller organization and your relationship with your boss is too unhealthy to approach them directly, go to their boss. You have a responsibility to yourself and also to your organization to fix what’s not working.
That said, only you know how things are and only you know what the culture is like. If the culture is one that persecutes people for stepping out of line and one that is built on alliances and childish games, you probably don’t want to work there anyway. But if your organization is one that values improvement and positive gains (even if that means conflicting opinions), even though it might be difficult, find someone that you can talk to about what you are dealing with. And this is only if you feel like you can’t talk to you boss. I know it can be intimidating to face your fear and speak your mind to you supervisor, but if your boss has a genuine heart, they will take the time to listen to you and address your concerns if you are willing to express those feelings.
Be a person. Be a team player. Talk it out.