It’s important to recognise that management is a soft skill that anyone should have regardless of whether they hold a management position. Managing upwards, in particular, is a vital skill that is mutually beneficial to you and your manager. It ensures you are both aligned on expectations and as a result are more productive.
Unfortunately, many managers spend their time purely managing their subordinates. Enter this common scenario: An exec asks a senior manager to do something, who passes it on to one of her/his staff, who in turn does the same. We’ve all witnessed it. All of a sudden the junior staff are overloaded because of a request from the top. This is without doubt the most common cause of stress I’ve witnessed, even amongst experienced colleagues. If someone doesn’t at some point ask the right questions and set realistic expectations, then the issue proliferates. All the while, the exec is completely oblivious.
The inability to manage upwards is a serious fault amongst the ambitious. In particular, saying “yes” without question only leads to higher expectation and more stress in the future.
But that doesn’t mean you always have to say “no”. Experience has taught me that in order to effectively manage my time and that of others, you need to follow these principles:
Don’t suck up
Don’t be tempted to affirm your manager’s thinking, or to say “yes” to every request. Be honest (but diplomatic) with your response and justify your thinking behind it.
Understand your manager
When your manager requests something, you can bet there’s a good reason for it. Fully understand the request and its reasoning to allow you to empathise and react accordingly.
Offer solutions, not problems
Senior managers and execs have a lot of responsibilities. Don’t give them more problems if you can avoid it. Instead, try to remain positive and offer alternative, pragmatic solutions. Can the deliverable be split into smaller chunks, some delivered now and some later? Can something else be shelved? Can the work be outsourced?
Be conservative when committing to deliverables. It’s vital not to over-promise – this will cause your manager to lose trust in you when you or your team don’t deliver. Offer a compromise in order to placate them in the short term if need be. Or explain that another piece of work will be delayed.
When you make a mistake (you will), admit it straight away. Tell your manager how you’re going to rectify it, and how you’re going to stop it from happening again. There’s nothing worse than someone who shirks responsibility.
To summarise, you don’t have to be a manager to practice good management. I’ve met some great managers who don’t hold management positions. But if we all learned to manage upwards, everyone’s job would be made easier.