Have you ever heard of the idea of “managing up?”

If you haven’t, it’s something you should probably learn if you work for someone.

Managing up is a simple concept. It means making sure you give your boss, board members or the person you work for have what they need when they need it. That, in turn, will make your life much easier. You’ll receive fewer questions. You’ll be and appear pro-active, and you’ll get your leadership to place more confidence in you because you are anticipating and “tuning” your work to their priorities.

Not Anticipating

Margaret worked at a nonprofit that was in the midst of a growth spurt. She was a young person with experience in social media and wanted to prove herself to her boss and the board in digital fundraising. Since the organization was small and they needed all the help, she received the opportunity to show her stuff by the executive director, who wanted her to shine.

Everything went well in the beginning. Margaret impressed the board with her research and the creation of a plan. When she presented, they felt confident, based on what she demonstrated in the beginning that they were going to get an energetic person raising awareness and money via social media and in digital fundraising.

Then the real work began.

Unfortunately, Margaret’s enthusiasm and social media experience were great on the front-end, but it didn’t serve her when the time came for her to deliver. She was too green in fundraising to understand all of the principles that go into cultivation. She did not engage as she should have with the more senior fundraisers who could have helped her along the way because as a young person understanding social media, she thought she knew better. She missed the “science and art” in fundraising.

She also over-promised. Big mistake. Never over-promise. The rule is always under-promise and over-deliver.

Mistakes, lack of communication and delays in meeting the metrics she presented (as well as in raising the money) gave way to frustration.

Big Mistake

The biggest mistake Margaret made was not managing up. She didn’t keep her boss informed. When he started to wonder and ask for updates, Margaret provided answers––but only after he asked. She failed to anticipate the questions that would ultimately come to her, probably because she didn’t want to deliver news that was less than stellar.

The biggest mistakes were that she over-promised, she didn’t manage expectations, and she didn’t have the tough conversation accepting responsibility with the executive director.

Rookie mistake.

Once she was not meeting the goals and metrics that she laid out, she should have had a frank conversation with the executive director.

Margaret went from having the opportunity to develop and show her skills at managing a critical area to getting sidelined. Ultimately, she resigned the organization.

The Toughest Conversation

No one wants to deliver bad news or have a hard conversation with the boss, board members or others for whom they work. I’m always amazed by that. I’ve been in sales for a long time, and I’ve found one of the simplest things that most people miss is to take ownership and talk to leadership when things are not going as planned or the outcomes are not developing as expected.

The reality is­­ this––things happen.

We’re all big “boys and girls.” In my social enterprises and businesses, and being in sales, I would rather hear the “no” or the negative or not so stellar news as early as possible with a plan for correction. It’s not a magic formula. It’s something simple, but I’m astounded by all the people who don’t follow that simple rule.
Communicate Often––No Matter What, And Especially If There’s a Problem

That’s all you have to do to manage up.

What Happens When You Manage Up?

There are several good reasons to get in the habit of managing up.

  • When you’re transparent about the good and the bad, you manage expectations, which is essential to decision-making. By all means, promote your successes to your boss, but if there’s a structural problem that can lead to other issues, most definitely communicate with the manager and manage up. From there, you can have conversations and make decisions about how to make the necessary course corrections.
  • When you manage up, you get the boss and leadership on your The best leaders and managers want their team to help them see blind spots. Even the best leaders can’t do or anticipate everything. And, if they are a great leader and manager, they’ve placed trust and confidence in their teams. The ones who move up the ladder are the team members who have the courage to speak up and respectfully provide their best professional thinking, even if it’s a tough conversation.
  • Everyone knows that business and projects are not a straight line. Everything comes with challenges. That’s just the way things go. Projects rarely go as planned. That’s okay because managers and leaders understand this reality. By managing up, you have the opportunity to demonstrate your strategy and problem-solving skills.

If you’re early in your career, one of the best things you can do is learn how to manage up. Learn how to make your boss happy. When you learn how to create a win/win situation where you and your boss have a clear line and channel of communication (even if the news is not good), remember, this is how you get ahead in the mind of your boss.


Author of Author of “Not Your Father’s Charity: Grip & Rip Leadership for Social Impact” (Free Digital Download)

© 2017 Wayne Elsey and Not Your Father’s Charity. All Rights Reserved.