Leading Others

Understand How and When To Manage Up

This activity is the first step in practicing skills to manage people in a higher position than you at work, or “managing up.” Managing up is all about having a healthy, positive relationship with your boss in order to understand his or her needs and expectations and deliver on those needs in a way that moves the mission of your organization forward. While managing up is a great way to promote job satisfaction and your career, unfortunately, some bosses don’t always make it easy.


1-2 hours

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Pen, paper, computer

Step 1

You might love your job and the organization you are working for, but be less enthusiastic about your direct supervisor. Take some time to read through the articles in this HBR collection, “What Everyone Should Know About Up Managing Up.

Step 2

The most important step in managing up is to get to know your boss so you can better understand what he or she needs from you. Block out some quiet, reflective time for you and your boss to develop your respective User Manuals. A User Manual is a guide to one’s leadership styles – a way to share and openly communicate the unique quirks that make you, you. Some key questions a User Manual should answer:

  • What is your work style?
  • How do you like to be approached and when?
  • What do you value?
  • What is the best way to communicate with you?
  • What is the best way for someone to support you?
  • How do you like to make decisions?
  • What are your pet peeves in the workplace?

Check out this link in the Playbook for more information about the User Manual and a template to follow, and make sure that you and your manager complete your own versions.

Step 3

Once you and your manager have written your User Manuals, share them with one another. Schedule an hour-long meeting to go through them. Focus on better understanding your manager and what will enable you to support him/her to be at their best. Help them understand what you need to be at your best as well.

Step 4

If you don’t already have one, ask your boss to set up a regular check-in meeting where you focus on checking in on the User Manual and any other interpersonal dynamics at work. What is working? What isn’t working? In the interim, use the User Manual as a tool to better understand your boss, which will help you manage up – a critical skill for being a team player as well as achieving your own professional goals and aspirations.