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Managing Upward

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In a corporate world whose hierarchical structure is shifting radically (as we wrote about here), it follows logically that feedback should flow not just downward and laterally, but upward as well. Leaders can very easily fall prey to the idea that being at the top awards them a perspective that is unshared by many and a vantage point that prevails over others’ not afforded a broader picture of the organization. Moreover, unseasoned leaders are not always comfortable receiving feedback from peers or direct reports. Doling out said feedback requires a certain prowess that often can only come from experience.

So what must you know as someone who wants to embrace upward management? Fostering relationships with your leaders is always important. But be aware that there lies a fine line between managing up, ingratiating yourself, and being too blatantly political. The best way to manage up with leaders who are much more senior than you involves doing superstar performance on occasions when you have visibility. Work to achieve two goals: influence those with the power to help you achieve what you want, and boost your reputation within the company.There are a few best practices for doing so:

  • Keep track of your accomplishments for performance review purposes. Help your boss do an effective job by completing a self-assessment, and don’t be shy in so doing.
  • Capitalize on opportunities to influence your boss’s thinking, especially on matters important to the company. If you have the chance, offer to draft a presentation or a proposal.
  • Establish a trusting relationship with your superiors. This is the space that allows you to offer feedback, but only if positive and constructive. Be candid, but strive to be helpful above all else.
  • Should your manager seek feedback on his performance or that of your peers, proceed with caution. Demonstrate to your boss that you are a good judge of talent and are able to identify key strengths and weaknesses. No rumors and no personal attacks.

Don’t focus solely on managing up, however. Those that do run the risk of looking opportunistic, and may miss chances to build good peer relationships, collaborate, and share the spotlight. Leaders do tend to notice this behavior. “Managing laterally,” or sharing guidance among peers, is also a best practice, but monitor yourself so as not to come off as self-important. As always, keep everything in moderation.

Even (and sometimes especially) management needs feedback. Occasionally, you may be awarded the opportunity to provide it. Make sure that your recommendations are cast in a purely positive light and focus on being respectful. A little finesse goes a long way.

Have you ever had to manage upward? What were some of your best practices?

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