Manage Up Like a Pro

Mikaela Kiner
Manage Up Like a Pro Everyone wants a good relationship with their manager, but no one wants to feel like the teacher's pet. Throughout your career, you'll work for many managers with different styles, preferences, and personalities. I had seven different managers at one company, and in every place I worked I've changed managers at least once during my first year. Figuring out how to please your boss can sometimes feel like solving a 1,000 piece puzzle, wearing a blindfold. I saw one Glass Door review that read “Frequent manager changes are a game of roulette.”

However, they don't have to be, especially if you get to know your manager and find out early how he/she likes to work together. One of my favorite managers was a self–proclaimed control freak. How did I learn to work with him? He told the team he had a strong preference for seeing “work in progress.” If he wasn't invited to review drafts and share feedback early on, we'd all be frustrated and disappointed. Unfortunately, not all managers are as self–aware. If you're still building that relationship, or need help making your existing relationship stronger, take these steps to get off on the right foot.

Share Proactive Status Updates

Managers often have a span of 5–7 employees in technology and professional services, and may have upwards of 20 in field organizations. Giving regular updates on your progress and key projects keeps your manager in the loop. Being proactive relieves your manager of having to check in too frequently, which often feels like micro–management.

Be Inclusive

The key is to figure out where and when your manager wants to be included. Invite your manager to participate in key meetings and decisions but be aware of what they are interested in being looped in on and what they want to leave to you. The best way to figure this out is often just to ask, especially early on. While they may not always be available, it's better to give them the option to join you, which also increases trust. The ideal result is that they respond by saying “That's ok, I know you've got this.” When they do join you, you'll know it's a topic that's highly visible, or important to them personally.

Simplify Prioritization and Trade–Offs

You probably have more on your plate that you can realistically get done; most of us do. Work is dynamic, flexibility is key, and priorities can change weekly if not daily. Keep a running list of your goals, as well as important items on your backlog. If you're asked to re–prioritize, be ready to talk about what you can delegate or postpone to make room for new, urgent work.

Try a Styles Assessment

Assessments like the DISC, TotalSDI, and Strengths Finder all give one an idea of their work styles. Understanding how you operate and what works for you will help when it comes to collaborating with your boss. Chances are if you experience challenges working with them, they are because you approach problems differently. However, this isn't a bad thing, you complement each other to create better work. But, it might lead to some conflict witch with better understanding of your style can help you resolve.

Offer Feedback

Hopefully your manager made it to that level because they have performed well. But no one's perfect, and the best managers want to learn and grow. Ask your manager for permission to give them feedback, and how they prefer to receive it. So long as your intentions are good, and your feedback is constructive and well–intended, they'll be receptive. Also be sure to be clear you also want to receive feedback, so you know what is on their mind. Be open minded to what they have to say as it will offer insights to what they are thinking about.

Help Out

Managers are people too! They are imperfect and need people to lean in. Even when you may be frustrated, do your best to step into their shoes and try and understand their actions, and what they may have going on. Don't let politics or power dynamics get in the way of lending a helping hand. There's truth in the employee's role of making your manager look good. If your boss is overwhelmed or short on resources, find ways to take things off their plate. Schedule the next meeting, create an agenda for an upcoming offsite, or plan the next morale event. It won't go unappreciated.
Mikaela KinerMikaela Kiner, CEO & Founder of Reverb, is a native Seattleite who's spent the last fifteen years in HR leadership roles at iconic Northwest companies including Microsoft, Amazon, PopCap Games and Redfin. She has an MS in HR Management with a certificate in Organizational Development and is an ICF credentialed coach. Mikaela delivers results by building trust and engaging her clients in creative problem solving. Clients appreciate her strategic thinking and hands on execution. You can find Mikaela on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook.

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