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7 Ways to Successfully Manage “UPWARDS”

May 25, 2014

Manage Upwards, Co-worker Managing UpwardsFinding opportunities to manage upwards is not always easy.

I was recently working with a group of Gen X and Y leaders who are in the Commercial Real Estate industry.

Often when I facilitate a workshop on change and we begin to discuss the impact of different generational attitudes as it relates to change there is a lot of interest.

Zoomers (baby boomers who refuse to age) are still the largest leadership demographic in the workplace today and an inflexible Zoomer can be a real challenge for anyone but especially Gen X and Y.

Research has confirmed that Gen X and Y are not loyal to a brand, rather they are loyal to a leader or the opportunities within the organization. When a Gen X or Y has a Zoomer boss who is attached to traditional methods, reluctant to explore new ideas or keeps information from the team it is extremely frustrating.


Case in point a Gen X audience member who spoke up during the meeting on change and asked me point blank:

“So what do I do about a Zoomer boss who refuses to help me succeed, who sees me as a threat and who is attached to the way things have always been done?”

It was a brave question given that all of her peers knew who she was speaking about- I responded to her that the question was brave and she said, “I am quitting and changing jobs in two weeks because I figured I couldn’t win with the situation”.

I hear this all too often from Gen X and Y who try very hard to fit into the structure and rules of a traditional work environment but inevitably find themselves stifled or kept back from his or her full potential. The reality is that organizations cannot ignore the impact of leaders who are unwilling to adapt to the new generational attitudes. The truth is that Gen X and Y will leave a job rather than ‘stick it out’ like a Zoomer might of done at the same age as the Gen X or Y today. Then some Zoomers leaders attribute the stereotype that Gen X and Y are disloyal.

Here are the 7 tips I gave the Gen X to successfully manage upwards:

1. Firstly take the time to understand your boss/leader more deeply. What is his or her personality? What is his or her generation? What does your boss consider hard work? What does your boss expect from his or her employees?

If your boss has not openly shared his or her leadership style with the team then you must take the time to ask him or her these questions. Otherwise you are relying on what you observe and your observations may not be accurate to the true values of your boss.

2. Have regular catch ups with your boss but not about how you are doing- rather focus on the results of the team, ideas that can drive business and honor the intelligence of your boss by opening with statements such as, “you may have already thought of this” before you present your idea. If you have an idea you feel strongly about do not just tell the boss about it, take the time to do some research and prepare a one or two slide presentation to show the boss how the idea could be implemented.

3. Make your boss look good. I know you may think that that is the bosses job- to make YOU look good and a master leader does do this regularly. However do not assume that all bosses have the natural ability to do this- when talking to your boss let him or her know that your goal is to help them succeed and the ideas you share are for the benefit of him or her and the company.

4. Take responsibility for your part in any misunderstandings or things that have gone wrong. If you are able to admit when you have not followed through or your messed up you might think you will always get blamed. Not true- when you take full responsibility for both the successes and the gaffes your build trust with your boss. He or she will trust your ability to be honest- and rely on you as a trusted ally.

5. Share your recognition with your boss and the team. You might be the strongest link on the team and you might put in a lot of effort for the results of the team. You deserve recognition for that AND you will build greater connection and credibility with your boss and team if you include them in the praise. Managers are hoping that everyone on his or her team will be accountable and team focused but not all managers know how to create this with his or her teams.

6. Understand that your boss is human. What you have in common is that you both want to do a good job, you both have people who love you, and you both want to have a good life. Focus on what you have in common rather than how different or frustrating your boss is. Have some empathy for the reality of being a boss- its stressful and not every boss has had the training, skills or development to help them be the most effective that he or she can be.

7. Ask for your bosses help. Let your boss know your ambitions without threatening him or her. How do you do this? You say things like, “My goal is to be as successful as you are and to learn as much as I can so that I can contribute even more to the goals and the team” or “I do want a job like yours one day but I am not after your job- can you help me get to where I want to go? ”

Remember that managing upwards (managing your boss) is part of stakeholder management and part of being on a team. Everyone is focused on all of the other stakeholders such as team mates, customers, suppliers etc. your boss is a major stakeholder in your success.

Ultimately if you have tried all of the above ideas and you continue to be frustrated or you have a boss who is unwilling to cooperate then you do have to make a decision for your own well being. If you do leave be brave enough to give an exit interview to your HR department and if you do not have an HR department share your honest reasons for why you are choosing to move on.



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