Know how to manage up

Research continues to show that the relationship with one’s boss is a key element of engagement and productivity, yet getting fully aligned with the boss’s needs and point of view can be a struggle.

The challenge often lies in the perceptions that fuel what an employee thinks his or her boss deems important, versus what the boss actually considers important. When the perceptions align with the outputs, the boss-employee relationship flourishes and results match expectations. When things are less rosy, the results can be disastrous.


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  • understand your boss's priorities
  • state your needs clearly
  • look beyond the obvious
  • check in and seek feedback
  • maintain a level of excellence

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  • attack your boss's opinion
  • be reluctant to disagree
  • become an obstacle to success
  • assume friendliness guarantees alignment
  • advocate unnecessary change

Tony Deblauwe‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do understand your boss's priorities

The first step in ensuring you and your boss communicate properly is to understand the priorities. Priorities usually come from corporate and/or department goals. If you are in a small business, it might be determined by customer feedback and requirements. The point is – you need to understand what your boss’s primary focus and pain points are and align your goals accordingly.

Do state your needs clearly

To achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, you need to outline what you need from your boss to carry out your tasks successfully. This often requires a clarification of roles and expectations, so that neither you nor your boss gets confused about the outcomes. The clearer you are with your boss in structuring the working relationship, the easier it will be to adapt and flex to changing circumstances.

Do look beyond the obvious

While there are several unwritten rules about how a boss and employee should coordinate with each other, one of the most important is that most bosses appreciate and expect their employees to see the bigger picture. Express your understanding of the basic problem, but always speak in terms of the broader solution. Remaining in front of concerns shows your boss you get the basics but are already moving forward and seeing a future resolution.

Do check in and seek feedback

There are bound to be occasional misunderstandings and crossed signals with your boss regarding performance and deliverables. The best way to minimize missteps is to regularly meet with your manager to monitor progress on tasks, but also to validate the measures of success previously negotiated. Changes could have occurred behind the scenes you aren’t aware of and your boss may not remember to communicate the changes to you.  Be proactive and get the answers you need to stay on track.

Do maintain a level of excellence

Your personal performance is a key part to establishing and maintaining a strong rapport with your boss. Timely execution, quality work, and a positive attitude are cornerstones for building trust, respect, and admiration from your boss.

Tony Deblauwe‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not attack your boss's opinion

The politics of managing up requires a professional orientation to your boss’s thoughts and insights even if you don’t agree with them. You may feel your boss is wrong in expressing his or her opinion on an issue, but don’t discount, ridicule or diffuse your boss’s position. If you disagree, respond in a courteous fashion and seek to open up the dialogue in order to share your views without making your boss feel minimized.

Do not be reluctant to disagree

Just as disrespecting your boss’s opinion is  a mistake , saying nothing when you don’t see eye to eye with your boss is an equal blunder. Your boss doesn’t know it all or have all the answers. Your expertise and knowledge on a particular topic is just as important and should be voiced. Even if your boss seems steadfast in his or her stance on a topic, chiming in with additional thoughts or guidance is appropriate if the intent is to find the best solution.

Do not become an obstacle to success

If you have a cynical attitude, constantly miss goal targets, and only feel you should do the bare minimum of work, you are failing both you and your boss. Be in the right place doing the right things or risk being viewed as a barrier that needs to be removed.

Do not assume friendliness guarantees alignment

Studies have shown that when forced to choose, managers prefer likability over competence. That means employees make the assumption that the friendlier and nicer they are to their boss, the easier their job is. Or worse, that a few pleasant exchanges translates into being in agreement with what is important and what needs to be done. While a friendly and cordial relationship with one’s boss is important, don’t automatically assume that being personable is the same as getting the needs of the business taken care of.

Do not advocate unnecessary change

If you believe strongly about something, make sure you have done your research and can defend your desire for altering a certain course of action. Often employees feel very passionately about how to do something, the direction a certain project should take, or other agenda item that appears to be wrong or confusing on the surface. Before your thoughts become demands, make sure that what you are asking for is truly required. Instead, if you are unsure because you sense something is out of whack or you aren’t sure you have all the details, talk to your boss first before possibly risking your credibility.


Learning how to work effectively with your boss requires solid communication. The more aware you are of your boss’s needs and viewpoints, the easier it becomes to provide your guidance and insight in creating a high performance relationship. Your ability to build a partnership with your boss will also give you more job satisfaction and long term career growth.

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