I borrow much of this thinking from Paige Eubanks-Barrow, my friend in the Association of Donor Relations Professionals and the Associate Vice President of Donor Relations at the LSU Foundation.
To quote from her presentation: “Managing up in the purest sense of the concept means that you will act forever and always as the catalyst in your reporting relationship.” Instead of waiting on directives from a superior, you internalize both the work objective and the work process to the point that you predict what will be needed and have it ready without being asked for it. You create systems for keeping those above and beside you aware of your work progress. You never bring up a problem without having several possible solutions at the ready. You state a recommended course of action and then list options. You’re prepared to discuss the pros, cons and ramifications of each option. You can process new information or direction quickly and integrate it into your current workflow without instruction.
As Paige says, “There are two rules here: don’t make me ask for an update and avoid surprises.” Running smoothly, this dynamic means that you are both managed and managing up. Most people operate in some sort of “middle” role, where they have direct reports, and they report up to someone else.
Here are examples Paige supplied:
Example of managing up
You are in the thick of the busiest time of your year and you need your supervisors’ blessing to move forward on an important project. The deadline isn’t for a few weeks but you overhear that your supervisor’s supervisor, who will also need to approve the project, is leaving soon for a month long family vacation. You check your project timeline and see that your next meeting with your supervisor isn’t until after her supervisor leaves for vacation. You bring this fact to her attention and she, in turn, is able to prioritize appropriately and all deadlines are met. You have successfully managed up. You took the initiative to see that things were going to run smoothly. You were flexible and you caught a break. You took charge and owned your project and took responsibility for the outcomes.
Example of being managed
You developed a business plan at the beginning of the year and you are on track to perform well. Your schedule has been more hectic than usual and you find yourself canceling meetings, arriving late to other meetings and you are falling behind in your day-to-day work. You are concerned about some of your teams but not your donor programs team. Your director of donor programs is always on the ball. In fact, she messaged you this morning to say that because your schedule is so packed today, she is going to pick you up at 2:45 p.m. for your 3:00 p.m. meeting with advancement services and she’ll talk to you about her work on the way.
Managing up is simply the act of aligning your schedule, tasks and deliverables to the needs and schedules of the people to whom you “report”. In doing so, you help them be successful by anticipating challenges and adjusting for both of you along the way. You probably do this all day, every day in your family and social lives. You make it easier for everyone to get where they are going because you are a master of thinking ahead and thinking through all of the options and preparing the team/family for success.
Learning to manage up is a hallmark of professional development and an indicator that you have leadership potential. It is a demonstration that you are, in effect, managing your own work already. By requiring less management, you free others to do the parts of their job that only they can do. You pay it forward by creating more opportunity for others to manage up to the people to whom they report. The one caveat here is knowing where the boundaries lie and not overstepping them. Respect the decision-making authority you have and negotiate expanded authority when indicated.
If you have good examples of managing up or being managed by others, please add your voice to this discussion!