In my blog post, Managing Upwards: How to make progress through influencing your supervisor, I introduced the subject of managing upwards. And I emphasised the importance of ‘Seek first to understand; then to be understood.’ In my last blog post, Managing Upwards: First you need to clearly understand your Manager, I shared some ideas on ‘Seek first to understand.’ In this final blog post in the series, I’ll share my eight tips for making progress in your career by influencing your manager:
1 – Adapt your communication style
Think about how your manager communicates and change your communication style so that you’re enabling them to be effective. For some managers, email is the best way for them to express themselves, for others, phone calls. Think about how productive your catchups are. Do you get more sorted when they’re an hour long for full discussions, or when they’re 20 minutes for overview chats? Once you understand how they like to communicate you can adjust your own communication style to fit their preferences. For example, if they prefer face-to-face, try to stop by their office or set up a video call to discuss issues rather than just sending an email. Use the language and terms that they often use and focus on the topics that are most important to them.
2 – Be service-oriented
Think of your manager as your most important customer buying your skills and services. You become a service provider, and it’s down to you to make sure your manager is satisfied with what you’re providing. What do they need from you? How do they like to get that information? How do they like that service to be fulfilled?
Manage their expectations and keep them updated of your progress. It’s impossible to over-communicate. By communicating the progress you’re making, you’ll be able to spot roadblocks early on and get things done faster. But make sure your updates are at the level of detail required. Some managers love to know every detail, and others are very hands-off. Provide the level of detail that gives them the reassurance that you know what you’re doing.
3 – Warn your boss early of a bad situation.
A minor issue can develop into a major one if it’s ignored. It’s better to share problems or issues with your manager straightaway before they escalate. When bad situations materialize — or, better yet, when you expect them — let your boss know in a polite and helpful manner. They will appreciate your initiative. But be mindful of the organization culture. Remember not to overstep your boundaries while offering your honest feedback.
When we make a mistake or something goes wrong, our instinct can sometimes be to fix it or hide it. If you can fix it for certain, then do so, but hiding it is not wise. Sooner or later your boss will find out. And the worst way for them to find out is from their boss or at a group meeting where they will look stupid for not knowing. When you see a bad situation developing that affects your boss, even if you may have caused it, warn them. That will allow the problem to be solved sooner and build your reputation as honest and mature. You can’t build mutual trust without being trustworthy yourself.
4 – Suggest solutions to problems
Everyone loves a problem-solver. One sure-fire way to win your manager’s good favour is to suggest solutions to problems rather than simply drawing attention to them. It is worth taking time to come up with various solutions to a problem. This shows you have carefully thought through the situation and didn’t jump to your first idea. But you should also have an opinion on which one would be the best alternative.
5 – Anticipate your boss’s needs and be helpful
Always offer your help during a work “emergency,” but also make a habit of paying attention to the normal rhythms of your organisation. Discover where you might be able to pitch in more regularly. For example, if you’ve noticed that your boss seems exasperated by creating graphs for the monthly meeting, offer to help draft them. Or if designing PowerPoint slides is taking up lots of their day, say you’d be happy to give it a second pair of eyes if that would help. Even if they don’t take you up on it, you’ve highlighted your concern for their time and an ability to think beyond established patterns. The more you anticipate their needs and show your understanding of them, the more confidence and influence you will build.
6 – Display the qualities all managers love while demonstrating your expertise
Some actions take no talent or special skill but create a very positive impact. They include being on time, bringing a good attitude to work and putting energy and enthusiasm into what you do. Other behaviours include supporting your teammates, asking questions when you don’t know the answers and being willing to work hard. Many organizations hire on the strength of these qualities, knowing that specialist skills can be learned along the way. So, make sure you display those desired qualities in your day-to-day work.
But also remember to demonstrate your expertise. Your manager is your senior, not your superior. If they’re at all sensible, they hired you because you’re better than they are at something, so don’t be shy about sharing your skills or knowledge.
7 – Learn from them
If you’re lucky, you can learn a lot from your manager – so grab those opportunities to learn. You don’t need to wait for the formal performance management process to ask for feedback or advice. Most companies’ review cycles are every six months, and that’s too long to wait for feedback. You can proactively set up a meeting (e.g., every 3 months or after a major project) to get feedback and career advice. This sends two signals to your boss. Firstly, that you care about your performance and want to improve. And secondly, you respect their opinion and experience and want their advice not only on your performance but on your career.
8 – Thank your boss
Don’t forget to thank your boss for helping you. If your boss goes out of their way to recommend you for a cool project or really helped you develop a new skill, give them a genuine thank you. You don’t need to get a gift or anything. Just a few sentences (best in person instead of email) to say you appreciated it. A heartfelt thanks can go a long way in building a good relationship with anyone, especially your boss.
So, that brings us to the end of our series of blog posts about managing upwards. I’d love to know your thoughts.