Upgrade Your Manager

Let’s face it, who you report to at work inevitably becomes a motivating factor in whether you look forward to — or dread — getting out of bed every day. What’s a Savvy Gal to do then, when her manager continues to micromanage, give conflicting instructions, and reject completed tasks?

She learns to “manage up.”

To manage up means to take proactive measures to manage your manager. That’s right. As daunting (and contradictory) as it may sound, proactively managing your manager can set a defining precedent in your career — not to mention make your eight to twelve hours in the workplace all the more tranquil.

Your relationship with your manager is one of the most vital relationships you must sustain. As such, Kathie De Chirico, noted expert in women’s leadership and founder of the Women in Fashion Leadership program at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology, offers the following step-by-step guide to successfully manage your manager:

1. Leave a Paper Trail

Is your manager micromanaging to the point you can’t go one hour without him or her hovering over your shoulder? Are you receiving instructions that seem to change quicker than you start planning your course of action? Your first order of business is to document these instances. Document all instances you feel should be addressed.

Keep a handwritten or an electronic journal detailing the date, time and context of each incident. Emails sent with conflicting expectations should be archived for future reference. To avoid being perceived as a disgruntled employee, constructing this paper trail will establish firm credibility when the time comes for you to present your case.

2. Step Into Her Office

Propose a time with your manager to discuss the issues. Being proactive in a delicate situation such as this is key. After all, in most work environments the manager is responsible for an annual evaluation of his/her subordinates, but the subordinates are rarely presented the reverse opportunity. Therefore, a passive response to an ineffective management style will imply you are in agreement with the way things operate, which allows the issues to simmer (if not, intensify).

Arrange a one-on-one meeting to initiate a dialogue with your manager. At the end of the day, not addressing the issues head on simply means more agony for you to pay. (Not to say confronting your manager is easy — it often isn’t. But if done correctly and in a non-confrontational tone, often times, a great deal can be accomplished. See the next point.)

3. Tell it Like it Is

Diplomatically, of course! Clearly identify your concerns in a tactful manner and the ways in which the examples cited are limiting your productivity. While it’s important not to blow your top in this situation, it is just as important to be (tastefully) transparent. A straightforward, solution-oriented approach, with careful positioning of the issues at hand, will prove to be effective.

4. Do Your Homework

The consistent theme in managing your manager is to be proactive. For this reason, it is not enough to initiate a meeting to complain about why you are unhappy. Almost any manager will inevitably think, “So what are you going to do about it?”

First, come prepared with ideas to enhance your manager/employee relationship. Take note of other manager/subordinate relationships in the workplace that you view as ideal. Highlight the ways in which these colleagues function differently and how you feel these differences could be of value to your reporting relationship. Devise solutions for each of the reoccurring issues hampering your efficiency. Give examples of times you did something right with her minimal micromanaging, and how much more productive those times proved to be.
You can suggest a weekly chat to review what projects you are working on for the week. Or ask your boss to put the details of an assignment in a one page memo or email correspondence.

Secondly, dedicate genuine consideration to your manager’s viewpoint. Where is he/she headed in their career? How can your recommendations benefit their personal and professional objectives within the workplace?
Be creative here, but the point is to come prepared with practical solutions, not just an airing of grievances.

5. Productivity is the End Result

One final point to remember is that effective management — whether manager to subordinate, or vice versa — is done from a holistic perspective. Subsequently, managing your manager should reflect a clear understanding of the ways in which your proposed changes will boost productivity for the organization as whole.

Learning to manage your manager may seem like an oxymoron of sorts, but it is possible and in some cases, crucial. A simple litmus test could be an assessment of whether the management style has proven to be debilitating to your work performance. If this is the case, proceed with caution, but do proceed.

Andrea N. Carter is a freelance writer and public relations specialist from Philadelphia.

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