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Boss’s Tip of the Week #8: Managing Up: How To Keep Your Boss Happy

Here is the 8th installment of the Boss’s Tip of the Week.  This advice column for managers is brought to you by Bob Rosner and Allan Halcrow, co-authors of The Boss’s Survival Guide.

Managing up is the process of managing your boss’s expectations, being responsive and maintaining a good relationship. (Managing up should not be confused with kissing up. Managing up is being proactive about what you should be doing anyway, and demonstrating that you are on top of things. Kissing up requires putting the boss’s ego ahead of the needs of the business, and involves a nauseating amount of insincerity and loss of dignity.)
 
Managing up is always important (the bottom line is that one of your most important jobs is to make your boss look good), but especially in tough times. After all, if layoffs loom do you want to be seen as an indispensable team player or as someone your boss can’t rely on?
 
Take Action
 
Know your boss. It sounds like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often we hear, “I don’t know what my boss wants.” Yes, in a perfect world your boss should tell you what he or she wants – and how. But we don’t live in a perfect world, and you should know what your priorities, deliverables and deadlines are. You should also understand your boss’s personality and style and (within reason) accommodate it.
 
Take ownership. Unless you work for a control freak (our sympathy if you do), you don’t have a job in which you should sit at your desk until you’re told what to do. You should decide what the priorities are, how to allocate resources and make assignments, how to meet your deliverables. If you’re uncertain, don’t just go to your boss and ask, “What should I do?” Instead, come up with a plan, or options, and ask your boss for feedback.
 
Advocate. Advocate for your department or team by focusing on your contribution to the bottom line. Remind your boss what you’ve done today, or this week, to make the organization stronger. Advocate for the resources (money, equipment, supplies) that you need to be effective. If you see opportunities, advocate for exploiting those opportunities; don’t settle for the status quo. And advocate for your team. Celebrate their accomplishments (collective and individual) and offer credit where credit is due. And remember that the better they look, the better you look: No one ever thought less of a coach if he developed a team of all stars.
 
Avoid surprises. As you advocate for your team, your boss should advocate for you. But he or she can’t do that without being in the loop. The last thing you want is your boss’s boss, or the CEO, or HR, or your boss’s peer to ask about something happening under your watch and have your boss respond with a blank, clueless stare.
 
Be a good soldier. Your boss will make decisions you don’t like. But once the decision is made, fall into line and offer your public support. Sometimes, that means implementing policies that you don’t agree with. Still, it’s important to present a united front. (Unless, of course, your boss is asking you to do something illegal or unethical, in which case you have even bigger concerns to address.) If you find that you’re often holding your nose and doing things you don’t believe in, then it may be time to look for another job. 
 
Real Life Example
 
The sales manager’s boss checked in regularly to see how things were going, and the sales manager’s answer was always the same: “Fine.” And to her things were fine – the team was on target to meet its goals, problems had been resolved, and she felt it would waste her boss’s time to recap daily minutiae. But to her boss, “fine” was like fingernails on a chalkboard. The boss was a realist who knew that problems happen, that clients offer a lot of feedback, and that salespeople need a lot of attention. Hearing that things were “fine” left her wondering whether the sales manager was clueless about what was going on, or was too inept to be doing anything.
 
Knowing that things couldn’t really be “fine,” she began micromanaging and doing end-runs around the manager to get information directly from the sales force. The pattern inevitably resulted in a confrontation, and both parties were shocked by how the other saw the situation. Together, they worked out a compromise. The boss stopped micromanaging when the sales manager stopped answering “fine,” and instead offered a summary of the issues that had arisen, the action she had taken, and the scuttlebutt she was hearing from the field. Now the boss was getting information, and she felt confident she knew what was happening and wouldn’t look bad to her boss.

Boss’s Tip of the Week #8: Managing Up: How To Keep Your Boss Happy
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