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Leading from the front and middle

Mastering managing up 

Critical message: Understanding how your manager gets measured is a critical success factor in managing up well. 

As a company, we have more than 200 individual leaders – at all levels – enrolled in our coaching programs. Every now and then, our coaches come together to talk about common themes in coaching sessions – without, of course, mentioning specific situations. 

How to successfully manage up – managing your relationship with your manager positively – is one of the most commonly discussed topics. There is also an increasing amount of research available that suggests that most leaders struggle to manage up, and yet those who do so successfully are much more successful than their counterparts who do not. 

So what is the secret of success when it comes to managing up? 

While there are many skills to deploy when trying to build a successful relationship with your manager, one really important technique is to understand how your manager gets measured. In our experience, many of our coachees don’t really know, or take into account often enough, the answers to the following questions: 

How does your managers’ manager intend to assess your managers performance? 

What are your managers KPIs? 

What are the consequences for your manager should s/he miss those KPIs? 

How does your work, and that of your team, contribute to the meeting of those KPIs? 

Which parts of your work, or that of your team, most significantly impact the meeting of these KPIs? 

How could you, if you prioritised your work and that of your team differently, reduce the stress of missing these contributions on both you and your manager? 

These questions most often arise when leaders we are coaching have initiatives or investment proposals that they know will be wildly successful, but their managers simply don’t appear interested in the proposals. Often – not always – one of the contributing factors is that the proposals are not directly aligned with what the manager thinks is important. This is often because the direct report doesn’t understand their managers priorities clearly. 

For some leaders, having this conversation with “the boss” is confronting. Some coachees have suggested to us that it might come across as rude to ask these questions of their manager. And in any case, shouldn’t it be their responsibility to tell us, rather than the other way around? 

The question really is for each of you reading this: how effective do you want to be? If you want to own your own destiny, then it makes sense to be proactive, and get the information you need to be successful in your current role. If you frame the conversation properly, and explain to your manager what is in it for them to share some of the key KPIs they are assessed against with you so you can contribute to their achievement, the conversation should flow fine 

Take the FASTLEAD challenge: what will you do differently today to make you a better leader? This topic is covered in more detail in the FASTLEAD program in the Managing Up, and Setting Performance Expectations modules. 



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