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  • Writer's pictureMike Bensi

Managing Up

Think of every single member of your team. Visualize their performance and contributions this past quarter. I bet there is one person you're not thinking of that you need to manage better.

It's your boss, OK. Let's just get right to it.

You spend so much time focusing on your team. What they're doing. What they're not doing. The all-stars. The dead-weight. But how much are you thinking about making sure your boss, your manager, is performing at her/his best?

Does that sound silly? McKinsey's recent research says no. They say that when senior executives focused their time on their manager (typically the CEO) and other senior executives, they were about 50 percent more important than managing subordinates for business success - and well over twice as important for career success.

50% more important than focusing on your employee showing up five minutes late to work. 50% more important than rereading your employee's email to a client.

I'm not saying you need to drop everything you're doing with your team and grab your CEO's favorite Starbucks beverage right now. The research still shows that you have to lead an effective team. And nobody likes a kiss-ass.

However, the ability to "manage up" should be a skill that you build within your own leadership capabilities, and typically includes the following actions:

Remind yourself what team you're on. When you manage a department or function, we can, and at times, should feel very focused on the success of that area. However, that shouldn't come at the detriment of the success of your leadership or the company. Get your mindset in check by ensuring your number one team is the leadership team you sit on. That your KPI is focused on company and business success.

Flip the org chart. Servant leadership. Transformational leadership. Traditional hierarchy. However you view your organizational chart, flip your view to look at any relationship on that chart as one that is focused more on relationships, and less on power. This view can help when your manager has to cancel a 1:1 meeting. Rather than waiting for them to reschedule, you follow up with options. If a peer on the leadership team is struggling for help, this view can help ensure you reach out to understand what support you and your team can provide.

Speak their language. In McKinsey's research, senior executives were more likely to be successful when they took on the big issues within the company - versus those who just viewed their primary job to "run the department". If you don't already know, ask your CEO what is keeping them up at night and/or where they are frustrated within the business to understand where performance needs to be improved.

Don't always say yes. Not only does nobody like a kiss-ass, but CEOs need the healthy pushback of trusted team members to be successful. If you're saying yes all the time, you're a yes-person. If you say no all the time, you're unemployed. Don't be afraid to share your insights and be ready to back up your opinion.

Compare strengths and weakness. At the end of the day, managing up might mean that you have to remind your boss about an upcoming meeting. Or to create a slide deck for an important presentation. These small acts allow you to bring your strengths into a relationship that compliment their weakness.

Your job as a leader is to make sure the people around you are successful. And that includes the person who you report to, as well as the people on your leadership team. Reframing this relationship can help you ensure their success, as well as your own.

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