Successful leaders know how to manage others. But what are the keys to managing up? What happens to those who don’t learn how to manage their boss … or board … or investors?
If you want to effectively interact with your boss, you must be proactive. You need to step outside yourself and ask:
What drives my boss?
How does she think?
What is her style of processing information?
Then, adapt your style to fit your audience.
Like it or not, if you don’t know what makes your boss tick, and if you don’t figure out how to influence him or her, you’re less likely to be successful. No matter how brilliant you are or how stellar your track record has been. Managing your boss is about tailoring your interactions to their needs, just as you would with a client.
Keys to Managing Up
Managing your boss means understanding his or her style, not relying on what works for you.
Remember the effectiveness of any communication is not measured by how clear or effective you think you were. Rather, it is measured by how well the other person understood you and, more importantly, did they change their behavior as a result?
Not managing your boss can leave you marginalized
Let’s imagine you’re a successful SVP of Marketing at a high-tech company. Lisa, your CEO, is an ideas person, who processes information best through conversation and presentations. You like to think you’re a master at both. However, Tomás, a new COO learns through reading and digesting data.
You hate writing reports and tend to prepare very brief high-level summaries, intending to elaborate one-on-one with the COO. Tomás, the COO, reads your reports and concludes, inaccurately, that you’re a fluff case– no real substance.
Sadly, you never got a real chance to overcome Tomás’ inaccurate conclusion because he doesn’t alter how he processes information to accommodate your communication style.
If you keep waiting for Tomás to think and act like Lisa, you’ll become more and more marginalized and ineffective.
Tips for Managing Your Boss
Managing your boss relies on skills you are already using with your clients.
To most effectively influence your boss, you need to apply the same level of forethought and preparation that you employ when meeting with a sales prospect.
Don’t be lulled by your CEO’s casual interpersonal style. If your conversations feel like a fun tennis match — hitting volleys back and forth with occasional lobs and hard groundstrokes — it does not necessarily mean you are communicating well professionally.
Your CEO might be a gregarious visionary who enjoys stimulating conversations; these help him finesse relationships with investors.
Nevertheless, he’s also a stickler for well run, efficient organizations, and wants his executives to get to the point quickly.
If you don’t do your homework well on your own boss, he might walk away thinking… great conversation but where’s the beef?
Employ a new mindset, make the necessary adjustments to your interactions with your boss. Go to every meeting better prepared and dial back the old friend attitude. Make your boss your client.
As Marshall Goldsmith, the author of the bestselling What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, told me in a conversation we had about advising executives:
Executives are always on stage. They have to approach any interaction with others with the attitude — ‘It’s showtime’.
You are on stage and you need to be thinking about your audience and how they perceive you.