Thrivner ThoughtCast | Managing Up


Purpose: To define managing up and its usefulness as a career development tool.

Do you ever find yourself wondering what you can do at work to get ahead? Would you define your career trajectory as moving forward, backward or stagnant? Consider managing up if your goal is to excel and reach a new career level. Managing up is an “up, down, and across” work routine customized by a subordinate to complement their manager’s preferred leadership style to optimize their workplace success. In other words, managing up means modifying your work habits to align more closely to your manager’s to make accomplishing their goals easier. It is a rarely utilized soft skill that has recently come to the forefront. This restructuring requires observation, patience, flexibility, and dedication to understanding your manager to sync with their style. Investing the time and energy necessary to make these adjustments reaps rewards across the board on project achievements, career trajectory, and eventually your sanity.

Managing Your Manager

Companies hire or promote people into management positions who can supervise and lead other employees. They have weighty responsibilities, including building and motivating teams, meeting project deadlines, working with available resources, and resolving conflicts, all while cultivating an organization’s culture. “Managing your manager” will require similar management skillsets used to accomplish your goals. Learning to manage up is a conscious and deliberate effort to form a constructive and collaborative partnership with your manager. It is not a manipulation tool but one of empowerment where you take charge of your workplace environment to achieve successful outcomes for everyone involved.

Know Yourself
    • Self-evaluation: It is helpful to initially perform a self-evaluation of YOUR workplace skills and habits before undertaking any study of your manager. Identifying the areas where you shine and where you could do better will help immensely when conforming your habits to best mesh with your manager’s. For example, if you despise communicating by email, but you learn this is your manager’s preferred method of communication, then you will have to commit to self-improve and practice your email writing skills. There are several online self-evaluation surveys designed to help you ask meaningful questions in this self-diagnosis process.
    • Self-awareness 1: The ability to monitor your emotions and reactions, or self-awareness, permits you to be cognizant of YOUR strengths, weaknesses, triggers, motivators, and other characteristics.

      Action Benefit
      Keep an open and curious mind. Increasing creativity.
      Be mindful of strengths and weaknesses. Knowing when to reach out for assistance and when you are good independently.
      Stay focused and set boundaries. Attaining a level of deep work and maintaining the integrity of goals.
      Recognize your emotional triggers. Responding properly.
      Practice self-discipline. Leading with mind over mood.
    • Self-esteem 2: How would you rate your level of self-esteem? People with healthy self-esteem treat themselves with respect and invest themselves completely in projects and people because they do not fear failure or rejection. Like everybody, they suffer hurt and disappointment, but setbacks neither damage nor diminish them. Owing to this resilience, they are open to embracing new people and opportunities, tolerating risk, expressing joy and delight, and accepting and forgiving others. Growth in this area depends on always giving your best effort while staying true to YOUR defined aspirations, values, and ideals.
Know Your Manager
    • Big picture: Find out exactly where your manager’s priorities and goals are directed and what tasks they deem necessary to accomplish their job so you can tie your work into it. The objective of managing up is to support your manager’s success, and it begins and ends with how well and meticulously you do your job.
    • Details: Discover what makes your manager tick and what ticks them off. Discover their strengths, talents, weaknesses, pressures, and stressors. Observe their habits and idiosyncrasies, pay attention to their leadership and communication styles and decision-making methods. Then adjust your efforts to correspond to your manager’s. Also, get to know your manager as a person. Find out where they came from, their career journey, and the lessons learned along the way. Use everything you know to build a trusting, respectful relationship.
    • Make the relationship work: It is your responsibility to make the relationship with your manager work smoothly.  Learn to navigate prickly or difficult boss personalities to achieve optimal results for the task, team, or project. All managers answer to someone higher up the organizational ladder; therefore, all managers are subordinates. Reframe a negative power construct into a relational partnership. Crafting a managing up plan to advance the concept of  “getting on the same page” with your manager should result in mutual workplace successes.

    Customization Factors to Consider

    • How to communicate? Face-to-face/text/email/phone call/video
    • How often to update? Daily/weekly/when new information is received
    • When to deliver information? Morning/after the first cup of coffee/afternoon
    • Introverted or extroverted? Introverts are thought-oriented, enjoy deep and meaningful social interactions, and feel recharged after spending time alone. Extroverts are action-oriented, enjoy more frequent social interaction, and feel energized after spending time with people.
    • Listener or reader? Listeners need to discuss before they understand; conduct a briefing first and follow-up with a memo. Readers need to understand before they discuss; send a memo first and follow-up with a briefing.
    • What forms of project management tools? Daily stand-up meetings/apps or software/ boards/charts/spreadsheets
    • Leadership style? 3
      • Autocratic: Authoritarian and results-focused.
      • Bureaucratic: Hierarchical and duty-focused.
      • Democratic: Supportive and innovative.
      • Laissez-Faire: Autonomous and delegatory.
      • Transactional: Strict and performance-focused.
      • Transformational: Inspirational and communicative.
    • Pet peeves? Tardiness/gum chewing/ dishonesty/lack of organization or preparedness/chronic negativity/ cursing/personal internet use
    • Personal interests and hobbies? Sports /creative or fine arts / gardening /wine / travel / music / photography / cooking / reading / volunteering

    Do the Work

    Once you understand your manager’s goals and how they operate, you become better equipped to anticipate their needs and become a true and indispensable source of help. Exceed expectations, deliver on commitments, and exhibit a diehard work ethic while focusing on work that matters to your manager. Develop a plan of action to manage up, and your manager will never know how they functioned without you.

    Take Initiative

      • Go above and beyond your normal job responsibilities. Proactively look ahead to the next step and formulate a plan to make it happen.
      • Your manager may think globally, so take the time to break down the project’s details to point out early any potential challenges or roadblocks. 
      • Get to know your organization’s “ins and outs” and collect knowledge concerning every facet of your manager’s involvement in a project. Build relationships with colleagues and know who to contact if your manager needs expertise on a matter. 
      • Use the phrases “I would be happy to handle that,” “I will get right on that,” “I can take the lead on that.” These expressions display your motivation and willingness to do what it takes to get the job done.

    Note: Ensure your manager approves or is aware of all your projects and keep them regularly informed on your assignments’ progress. Consistent, reciprocal communication is vital to keep moving forward and avoid crossing signals.


      • Do not overstep your manager’s authority, but step up and volunteer to tackle project tasks, even undesirable ones. Ask, “How best can I help you complete this presentation?” 
      • Be on the lookout and request to handle assignments in areas you know your manager is less skilled or not interested.
      • Continue looking for opportunities to learn new skills that you can implement on the job that does not require advanced permission. 

    Stay Organized

      • Establish daily routines and avoid multitasking. 
      • Create a personal to-do list and keep track of deadlines.
      • Break down intimidating projects into manageable tasks.
      • Set up a system to effectively manage your emails.

      Stay on top of your regular workload before you accept additional responsibilities to avoid overextending yourself. 

    Present Solutions 

      • When your manager comes to you with a problem, be prepared to think on your feet and brainstorm solutions. 
      • If you encounter an issue that requires your manager‘s input, offer solutions, strategies for mitigating risk, or backup plans and present them in your report.
      • Become proficient at problem-solving and practice finding answers to pressing issues, and formulate feasible solutions. 

    Devise an Interruption Policy

      • Respect your manager’s time and their need to work uninterrupted.
      • Outline a plan in advance, so when an occasion arises that you need immediate interaction with your manager, you both understand the signals.
      • Decide, based on your manager’s preference, what level of information would necessitate an interruption and how and when it should be delivered.

    Practice Transparency

      • Speak truth to power by honestly providing your manager with constructive feedback and information rather than acting disingenuously with empty or untrue compliments.
      • Confront mistakes with lessons learned and straightforward suggestions on how to prevent them during project debriefs.  
      • Missteps happen despite people’s best efforts or intentions. Graciously dispense and humbly receive forgiveness without keeping score.

    Invaluable Traits

    • Integrity: Honest, diligent, responsible
    • Discretion: Trustworthy, prudent
    • Vitality: Zealous, industrious
    • Reliability: Dependable, loyal, dedicated
    • Humor: Laugher, light-hearted good cheer
    • Flexibility: Adaptable, resilient
    • Practicality: Sensible, logical


      • Ego: Trapped in your own views, wants, and the need to be right. Stop complaining about your manager and start figuring out how to change what you are doing, or not doing, to get the chemistry and productivity flowing.
      • Fixed Perspective: Stuck in the same reactive and interactive responses, which eventually leads to bitterness. Your views may be absolutely correct, but your manager is unlikely to change. It is better to search out alternative approaches.
      • Resistance to Change: Digging your heels in and clinging to past ways of doing business. Change requires extra effort and brainpower, forcing you to move out of your comfort zone. Change is hard. 
      • Undermining teamwork: Playing to your manager’s attention or prioritizing their special projects over the current team project. “Sucking up” can lead to feelings of resentment and alienate your colleagues, which could result in unfavorable labeling and sabotage your credibility and reputation. 
      • Burnout 4: Overwhelmed by an unmanageable workload. Lack of communication is often the underlying cause of employee burnout. Failure to communicate with your manager about direct and indirect job expectations, time and resource constraints, and lack of support leads to poor performance and damage to confidence.

    Communication Styles

    Building a good relationship with your manager and various colleagues depends on empathic, consistent, and open communication. Effective communication is foundational to forming connections when: presenting and exchanging information and ideas, seeking clarification on tasks, self-advocating when it comes to expectations, mitigating conflict, and elevating positivity in the workplace environment. Active listening is just as critical as engaging in clear and honest dialogue. When you listen with attention and consideration, messages are more easily comprehended and retained. It also encourages the speaker to feel comfortable and impart more information enabling you to give a more thorough response. Examine the communication styles below, as defined by Mark Murphy 5, author, and leadership coach, to determine which one aligns with your manager: 

    1. Analytical: Analytical communicators love complex data, numbers, and specific language. As such, they are usually wary of people who deal with vague language and strictly blue-sky ideas and get quickly drained when conversations move from logical to emotional.
    How to work with an analytical communication style
    Try to Avoid
    • Provide as much detail upfront as possible.
    • Turning the conversation emotional (i.e., use “I know” or “I think” rather than “I feel.”)
    • Set clear expectations.
    • Framing feedback on their work (especially data-heavy work) as criticism.
    • Give them space to work independently.

    2. Intuitive: Instead of data, details, and concrete steps, the intuitive communication style thrives on big-picture ideas. Linear order, step-by-step instructions, and deep dives into the details are not important. Instead, they are more interested in broad overviews that allow them to skip directly to what is most important.

    How to work with an intuitive communication style

    Try to Avoid
    • Stick to the main topic and keep it at a high level.
    • Giving too many details (obviously).
    • Be prepared to answer follow-up questions.
    • Taking their approach personally (they are just doing what feels right to them.)
    • Keep details to a minimum (you can always follow-up with these in an email after the conversation so they can refer back later on.)
    • Making too big promises (they will latch onto the big picture and ignore the details of how hard it might be to pull off.)

    3. Functional: Someone with a functional communication style loves the process. But maybe more than that, they love the step-by-step guides, details, timelines, and thought-through plans. When you talk, you want to go through each point from start to finish to make sure nothing gets missed or glossed over.

    How to work with a functional communication style

    Try to Avoid
    • Practice “active listening” by repeating what they have said and asking follow-up questions.
    • Rushing them to get to the end or make a decision.
    • Expect them to ask for details, even if you are just brainstorming.
    • Assuming they support an idea 100% (their criticism or feedback will often be on the steps, not the overall strategy.)

    4. Personal: A personal communicator values connection, relationships, and emotional language above all. When they dig into something, they care as much (or more) about the person saying it as what they are saying. They are good listeners, great diplomats, and often can help smooth over issues that more hard-lined communication styles cause.

    How to work with a personal communication style

    Try to  Avoid
    • Keep conversations light and casual.
    • Talking down to them or being overly pessimistic (they pick up on “vibes” more than others.)
    • Not get offended if they ask how something made you “feel” or make a strictly work conversation personal.
    • Trying to contain the conversation to just stats and facts.
    • Follow up with important details and information by email after the meeting (they probably will not focus on it too much during your initial conversation.)
    • Pressuring them to do a deep dive into the details with you.

    More and more in this high-tech society, success comes down to our ability to communicate clearly and concisely. Managing up requires deliberate study into various communication styles to clarify how best to be heard and how best to listen. When everyone speaks the same language, it creates a less stressful environment and promotes efficiency and expediency.

    Creating Supporting Work Relationships

    Even though managing up focuses on the partnership with your manager, there will be numerous interactions with other professionals necessary to accomplish the organization’s goals. Modeling synergistic behavior contributes to a congenial workplace environment, encourages collaboration, reduces friction, and fosters positive and dynamic team camaraderie. 

      • Support workplace culture: Company culture encompasses an organization’s work environment, mission statement, values, ethics, expectations, and goals and is primarily influenced by its founders and senior leaders. It is also made up of the collective life experiences that each team member brings to the workplace. Culture is an invisible but powerful element that shapes work enjoyment, work relationships, and work processes. Encourage cooperation and collaboration and emphasize the value and meaningfulness of the work the team is producing.
      • Develop trust: Building trust depends on how you treat your colleagues and how they view your actions. Hit pause on the to-do list running in your head and concentrate on being mindful and fully present in engagements with colleagues. Recognize their value and what they bring to the team and show some interest in their personal life. Your colleagues will also be watching how seriously you take your responsibilities and your commitments. Freely admitting mistakes and rectifying errors taps into your integrity and leads to trust-building. Also, be sure to make new hires feel welcome and supported by answering questions and addressing difficulties. Small inclusive, and caring actions speak volumes.
      • Show appreciation and respect: Appreciate and adapt to people with diverse perspectives, priorities, and personalities. Post project completions and talk-up team accomplishments. Participate in workforce development opportunities and bring colleagues with you. Seek out opinions and conduct informal check-ins. Common courtesies and random acts of kindness demonstrate respect and promote goodwill. 
      • Speak well of your team members: Be prepared and willing to support and defend team members in case they need assistance. Generously bestow compliments and share praise for a job well done. Remain professional at all times, avoiding toxic workplace gossip and politics. Build others up and if you can not find anything kind to say about someone, refrain from saying anything.
      • Be positive 6: Think in an optimistic frame of mind, not fake, but with genuine and sincere positivity. Positive thinkers understand that life can be challenging, but they approach challenges with determination rather than defeat. Positive thinkers feel confident that they can conquer whatever obstacles they encounter, due mainly to their belief in themselves and their abilities, and the abilities of others they work with. Some of the benefits of positive thinking; reduces stress, boosts mental health, increases energy levels, improves focus, and stimulates creativity. 
      • Exemplify diplomacy: When dealing with others, acting with diplomacy can aid in maintaining good relationships, avoiding artistic or cultural clashes, and preventing emotional outbursts.

    Managing up is a career development method based on purposefully crafting a mutually beneficial workplace partnership with your manager. It involves aligning your workplace skills, habits, behaviors, and attitudes to match how your manager works best. Working within a unified, compatible vision translates to individual, team and organizational productivity. Your manager will come to rely on you, and in return, you’ll have much more power and influence on the team. The benefits of managing up extend far beyond the subordinate-manager relationship. Skills acquired and applied are highly transferable and signal that you are capable of a significant step-up in job responsibilities. Take stock of your current trajectory to gauge if managing up will help you reach a new career level.


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