Skip to main content

The foundation of any successful communications program is truly understanding your audience and supplying them with the content and knowledge they seek to explain why your product or service is worth their attention and money. That mutual understanding can create a domino effect of earned trust that leads to building authentic relationships.

Communications leaders can apply this same concept when it comes to managing up.

Managing up is a career development method based on consciously working for the mutual benefit of you and your boss. When leaders foster a culture of mutual respect among the people they manage, this breeds one of the most important elements of relationships—trust.

In the simplest form, managing up is about proactive communication. However, in complex scenarios, it can be more about listening to the needs of your team. A Ladders survey revealed 79% of professionals said that requesting and providing feedback is the most effective approach to managing up. But unfortunately, only 74% confirmed feeling confident enough to express themselves in the workplace. In these instances, an effective leader must recognize the value of their employees’ perspectives and show respect, which employees can then reciprocate.

79% of professionals said that requesting and providing feedback is the most effective approach to managing up.

A successful workspace starts with leadership and trickles down. One of my favorite quotes that applies to this concept is from Peloton instructor Jess Sims, who frequently says, “No ego, amigo.” When a manager has a personal agenda, it can quickly erode team morale and lead to poor relationships, and team members may never feel comfortable managing up.

To be clear: Managing up is not going over your manager’s head or talking about challenges with your manager to another team member. Any feedback for your manager should go directly to them—not someone else.

So how can you make managing up work? Here are three best practices I’ve learned throughout my career:

1. Understand how each person you manage is wired.

A critical part of new hire onboarding is emotionally integrating them into the organization and providing them with the tools and support they need to succeed.

When someone joins my team, I give them BrenĂ© Brown’s Dare to Lead list of values. I ask them to choose their top two values and I share mine. At my agency, we also ask each team member to participate in a DiSC assessment.

This is helpful in understanding how someone operates at a professional level, but the values give me a deeper understanding of what motivates that individual. By spending time learning how each of your team members is wired, you’ll be more in tune with each other’s personalities and can better train, define job responsibilities and convey information that helps you both succeed.

2. Proactivity goes both ways.

Training yourself to become a self-starter is one of the surest ways to be successful. Rather than waiting for direction, take initiative and aim to complete tasks without much guidance or instruction. A good communicator can recognize if their boss is doing things that could be delegated. Taking ownership of work shows you are an asset in the workplace.

However, being proactive differs from always being a “yes person.” Be honest about your capacity when you’re overwhelmed. A great manager will respect and appreciate this feedback.

Even if this doesn’t come naturally to you, being proactive and (respectfully!) vocal about wants and needs is a habit you can adopt. Embrace new opportunities to challenge yourself to grow both personally and professionally by showcasing vulnerability when it comes to what’s working, what’s not working and where you want to take your career. It’s then on your manager to take that feedback and act on it.

3. Honesty is the best policy.

Building on the above point, many of us have been conditioned in the workplace to avoid expressing opinions, frustrations or general ideas … unless asked. If a company wants to continue to evolve, leadership must be open to hearing from their employees, even if it’s brutally honest. If your organization has an open-door policy, welcome all improvement feedback.

When developing trust, 80% of employees believe internal communication is crucial. Even in the most successful organizations, there is always room for improvement, so don’t be afraid to communicate the good, the bad or the ugly.

As communicators, using our voices is one of our biggest strengths, so use your superpower to share your concerns, suggest improvements or offer to take on new and challenging work. And if you make a mistake or don’t feel confident in your work, express that to your boss. Creating a workplace of transparency also cultivates an environment for self-accountability and responsibility.

It’s also important to get comfortable with uncomfortable conversations. Ultimately, understanding each other’s communications style and preferences can help move the conversation forward, so never shy away from healthy confrontation.

Here’s an example from my career when managing up was effective:

A team member once reminded me that I don’t need to do it all. I found myself being overprotective of her and making sure I wasn’t giving her too much work, which led me to take more on myself. We had an open conversation, and she said, “Let me take on this work. I promise to be honest and let you know if it becomes too much.” From that day forward, I’ve always trusted her and let her run with things. She knows I’m here to support her and pulls me in when she needs me. Otherwise, she keeps me updated and I let her soar.

Embracing managing up in the workplace can lead to improved communication, increased trust and a more positive work environment for managers and their team members. By effectively managing up, employees can ensure their needs are met while also helping managers achieve their goals. Ultimately, managing up fosters a culture of collaboration and mutual support, leading to greater success for everyone involved.

Nikki Little is Senior Vice President at Franco. Connect with her on LinkedIn.