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Managing Up: Help Your Boss Help You

Managing Up: Help Your Boss Help You
Credit: Pressmaster/Shutterstock

You only get out of your career what you put into it, and that especially applies to your relationship with your boss. This is the person who will ultimately determine your path at the company, and you shouldn't be afraid to "manage up" — that is, learn to adapt to your boss's work style so you can give him or her the best performance and results possible.

"Not all managers work the same or have the same expectations, so if a lower-level employee learns how to adapt and serve a manager in a way that gets the work done better and faster, not only will that employee be recognized as a stellar performer, the business will excel and hopefully offer more opportunity for growth and advancement," said Christine Barney, CEO and managing partner of rbb Communications.

In some cases, a boss doesn't always have time to work closely with his or her team, said Guy Yehiav, CEO of prescriptive analytics company Profitect. It then becomes your responsibility to keep your boss updated on your projects and ensure that everything gets done, even if that means delegating tasks.

"In reality, this allows a lower-level employee to strengthen their skill set and put in place the leadership practices that they personally think are for the greater good of the company," Yehiav added.

But you want to be careful when you're having these conversations: To avoid seeming pushy or entitled, you'll need to approach them professionally and respectfully. Here's how to effectively manage up, and help yourself by helping your boss. [Speak Up: 5 Things Your Boss Wants to Hear You Say]

If you want your manager to be receptive to your ideas and feedback, you must first truly earn his or her trust. You can do this by building up a friendly rapport with them to learn the way they work, said Samantha Lambert, director of human resources at Blue Fountain Media.

"You really have to have the right ... chemistry with your boss to [manage up]," she told Business News Daily. "Lower-level employees are still learning and navigating through their careers, [but] ... knowing how to adapt to or work with a boss will set them apart from the rest."

Lambert advised workers to get to know their boss on a professional and personal level.

"Share about yourself, too, if you have the opportunity, because that is a level of curiosity, care [and] concern that can directly impact the [trust in a] work relationship," she said.

Finally, check your ego at the door. Commit yourself to your manager's and your company's goals, and show them that you can be a reflection and extension of their success, said Lambert.

On any given day, managers are juggling a dozen "behind the scenes" tasks to oversee their other employees and answer to their own bosses. While your boss should be checking in with you regularly, you're probably not the only person he or she has to worry about — if you're not openly expressing your concerns and questions, your boss may not instinctively know you have them. That's why it's so important to offer your honest feedback.

"When your manager asks you for feedback, give it," said Dominique Jones, chief people officer at Halogen Software, a provider of employee performance and talent management solutions. "Look at this as an important opportunity to ... help yourself. A culture [of feedback] improves performance, advances personal development and improves employee engagement."

It's important to time your feedback properly, too. Barney reminded employees to be aware of their boss's expectations and preferences when it comes to communication, and to understand when you might be perceived as helpful versus pushy.

"For example, if an employee nags me within the 24-hour window I’ve set to respond to nonurgent matters, I get annoyed. But when I get a reminder after 36 hours, chances are I've missed something and am thankful that my employee is backstopping me," Barney said.

"A good tip to keep in mind is to ask if they are open to receiving feedback and when can that conversation take place," Jones added. "Catching someone off guard is not always best, particularly for a constructive conversation."

Just as you likely don't want to be micromanaged, you shouldn't be trying to micromanage your boss. Instead, Yehiav advised showing your manager that you're a true team player, and that everything you do and suggest is in the interest of collaboration.

"When I look for leadership qualities in employees, I look for intangible skill sets, such as remaining composed under stressful circumstances; providing guidance and support to junior staff; and offering a solution as opposed to simply pointing out a problem," he said. "Employees should work every day to add value rather than generating or highlighting problems."

Above all, Barney noted that you shouldn't equate "managing up" with "sucking up." You're not going to move up the ladder simply because you're trying to win your boss over.

"Being the kind of employee who not only delivers a great work product but who understands how to work with others so they and the entire team can be most successful is a recipe for business success," she said.

Nicole Fallon

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. Nicole served as the site's managing editor until January 2018, and briefly ran Business.com's copy and production team. Follow her on Twitter.