5 Steps for Managing Upward

In my first “real” job out of college, I had no idea what managing upward was and had no idea how to do it. More importantly, I didn’t know why it was necessary. In hindsight, I got passed over for a job opening in the department that I wanted because I didn’t manage upward, I got more work than any other person in the department thrown on me because I didn’t manage upward, and I ended up being pretty miserable because I didn’t manage upward.

In my personal experiences and in coaching middle managers, I’ve learned that the topic of managing upward, or the act of realizing that you have a responsibility in managing the relationship with your boss and thus your career just as much as he or she does if not more, is an issue that comes up quite frequently.

If I had followed these steps for managing upward, who knows, I might still be with the same organization I was with 10 years ago. (Or maybe not, but that’s a post for another day).

  1. Know your career goals. Write them down. Where do you want to be in one year, in five, in ten?
  2. Communicate your career goals to your boss. Request feedback from them on how you might be able to make these goals a reality with their help. Communication is critical in any type of relationship.
  3. Be open to your boss’ feedback and implement their suggestions.
  4. Ask or volunteer for assignments that help contribute to your goals.
  5. Realize that sometimes, your boss wants you to do stuff that you don’t want to do or that you do not see how it would add value to the organization or your career goals. And sometimes, you have to realize, just like we tell our three year old, “Because I said so” is a good enough reason to follow-through on what is asked (as long as it isn’t unethical). Following through on assignments on time, on budget and with solid results can lead to quicker career growth regardless of the assignment.

How have you been effective in managing upward relationships?

Mary Ila Ward

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