We’ve all heard the phrase ‘managing up.’ But what about ‘leading up?’ In today’s corporate culture, more organizations are seeking professionals who know the difference between the two and can deftly perform both with an emphasis on the latter.
Managing up is a phrase that broadly includes anticipating your manager’s needs and proactively adapting to support them. In other words, making their lives easier and at the same time, getting better results for you and your team.
While this may sound a bit like a ‘yes person,’ it isn’t. While you do anticipate their needs and respond accordingly, you also challenge them to think differently and earn the respect to contribute your ideas. You may find yourself stepping in to do a lion’s share of their work and to represent them in meetings or in making decisions.
While managing up is a great way to build a good working relationship with your boss while setting yourself up for career advancement, there are downsides.
Building trust and then using that trust to manipulate situations in your favor is a very costly mistake. Also, there is the factor of colleagues seeing your proactive career move as ‘brown-nosing’ or political. This is why it’s important to always keep in mind that managing up is a sincere, not selfish approach to architecting a productive and healthy work environment. In other words, managing up should produce mutually positive outcomes for your manager, your team, you and your organization.
Enter the phrase ‘leading up.’ This phrase builds on the idea of managing up but emphasizes stepping into your leadership shoes.
The phrase alone invokes a higher level of performance and goes far to assuage your ego. Let me explain. When leading up, you adopt the mindset of a leader, become an example others will follow, inspire collegiality and productivity, share your voice without being disrespectful and use your strengths for the overall good and not just to ‘get your job done.’ Through leading up you’ll thoughtfully navigate conflict, not run from it and, most importantly, not succumb to it.
Leading up and managing up are not mutually exclusive.
They share many common behaviors but leading up truly positions you to be seen as a leader in your own right. This action sets you up for opening the door to new opportunities, building a more robust and high-level network and ultimately achieving big goals and career advancement.
A word of caution, if you want your work to elevate and sustain long-term career success, ego must never be the ultimate driver. People see through this veneer. Take a look at the sharks that are out there stepping on whomever they can to get to the top. This is not you. While there is definitely an element of ego in all that we do, your decision to lead up should never be to win but rather to serve. Your efforts in leading up should be altruistic in terms of everyone’s and the organization’s success, and of course to help you build trust in the eyes of others that you are a future leader they want to follow.
It doesn’t matter what position you hold within an organization; you can always lead up. Here are ten ways that you can lead up and achieve career excellence:
- Lead yourself. This is the time when you want to demonstrate the ideal characteristics of a leader. Making effective decisions, leading your team thoughtfully, being productive in your work, managing your emotions and being consistent with efforts and within your relationships.
- Support your manager. Look for ways that you can step in and take care of projects, team challenges, tasks, conflicts and reduce their overall workload.
- Anticipate their needs. Be proactive when it comes to solutions and long-range goals. Get a head start on projects, propose ideas for redesigning workflow, look for ways to reduce costs, improve productivity and get ahead of obstacles.
- Foresee opportunities worth exploring. Be prepared for each meeting you have with subordinates, colleagues and your own manager. Come with an agenda and share opportunities that you deem worthy along with sound reasoning for your decisions.
- Do what others won’t do. Shine as a thoughtful leader by stepping in and taking care of business that isn’t being attended to. This may include working through conflicts, creating processes that will help improve productivity and conducting crucial conversations on behalf of your leader.
- Invest in people. Spend time with team members, key constituents, clients, leaders, vendors and anyone with whom you should be interacting. Build these relationships so that you can empower them, gain trust, get results and communicate effectively.
- Be a better leader each day. Work on yourself through professional development trainings, mentoring, reading and education. Don’t wait for your manager to share with you what they believe you need to know. Seek out guidance from influencers in your field and build your resume and your leadership acumen daily.
- Learn from mistakes. Don’t get caught up in what happened yesterday, rather focus on how you can improve today. Admit when you’re wrong or when you don’t know and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Leaders who are transparent and ‘human’ will sustain their upward trajectory and inspire others to follow their lead.
- Be respectful of others’ time. Time is precious so consider making every interaction brief and impactful. Also, by taking a hard look at ineffective meetings, outdated processes, mundane tasks, inconsistencies and imbalance in workloads, you can curtail waste and help others be more productive and effectively manage their day.
- Document everything. As your coach, you hear me say this numerous times and for numerous reasons. First, recording your results is a great confidence booster. Second, being able to articulate your efforts and accomplishments will really come in handy when going into your next review, promotion, raise negotiation, interview or pitching for a leadership seat.
How to Be Career Happy? Lead Up