I work as a manager but sometimes feel I am more of a leader than my boss. On paper, they have the leadership duties, but since I have more experience and context with the day-to-day operations and their primary role is quite different, I end up doing most of the work. They are often unwilling to learn new things they should know for their role and sometimes fail to prioritize key responsibilities to our office since they are busy and their main interests are elsewhere. I am trying to be a leader, but since I am juggling so much, in the end it feels like we have no leader. Do you have any suggestions for “managing up?"
In a Leadership Vacuum
Dear In a Leadership in a Vacuum,
Being in a position where you feel the work you are doing to keep a unit and projects functioning isn’t valued, or even noticed, by your manager is hard. It is essential and often not easy, for your day to day sanity and your career, to develop and maintain an effective and productive working relationship with your manager. This requires a relationship where you trust the individual is interested in your work and development as much as their own. Reflect on the saying, “employees don’t leave companies, they leave their manager.”
You’ve shared that your manager’s focus is not on the operations you lead for your unit nor prioritizing understanding or learning key aspects of your office. While you find this frustrating because you seek more involvement from them as a leader during these uncertain times, I encourage you to re-frame this in your mind and consider how your current state is freeing. You’re not being micromanaged which likely means your manager trusts you and your work.
I see an opportunity to manage up, or figure out how to capitalize on the traits of your manager to help you perform your best and demonstrate your value to them and your organization. There is no one size fits all formula to manage up. Test out some new strategies considering the aspects below:
Know your manager’s style
Have you ever taken notes on or sought clarity from your supervisor about their preferred operating style? This is key to identifying what you may need to adapt, and it might help you understand better how you can work within that context while still growing and expanding your skills. How does your supervisor communicate, what are their preferred channels, what have they shared about their needs and expectations of you and your unit? You may need to call upon active listening to read into your conversations if they are not direct in their communication with you.
Humanize your manager
Your supervisor is human with strengths and weaknesses. You’ll find that being authentic, honest, and caring with your supervisor can go a long way to developing a deeper connection. If you’re not clear about their goals, expectations, or aspirations then find ways to ask for clarity that stress how your desire is to exceed their expectations and limit any additional time or resources they may need to spend down the road as a result of a lack of clarity. Also consider that matching the tone, language, and terms you hear from your manager can help you to be heard by your manager.
Share feedback and seek support
Give positive feedback to reinforce things you’d like to see more of and try to remain calm and productive when stress is high for either of you. Convey that you appreciate autonomy, and you're concerned because you want to keep things running smoothly and are seeking their direction. Ask for their insight on organizational issues they see from their vantage point and let them know you’ll use this information to prioritize and decide what can take a back seat. You also might decide to share that you desire more mentorship to increase confidence with the uncertainty that is so prevalent in your work and ask for suggestions of leaders they have worked with.
Convey your technical skills, results, and future plans
You seem to be handling the day to day operations with little involvement from your manager. How often do you update your manager to highlight the unit work that is getting done, under your leadership, without their supervision? Where are the opportunities to talk about the unit goals, achievements, convey outcomes, and solutions to problems you’d like their input on? Managing up results in your supervisor seeing you as an indispensable member of their team.
Ultimately, a big part of making it work with your supervisor is recognizing we all see our work and that of our colleagues through our own lens. The manager may benefit from a stronger relationship with you to help them see some things they have not previously, and my guess is you too may benefit from the same.
P.S. Now that I’ve shared my thoughts, I’m curious what the amazing community of educators reading this post has to say. Chime in, folks! What thoughts do you have for In A Leadership Vacuum? Share your thoughts on the Global Leadership League’s LinkedIn page. Have a question for Sophia yourself, ask here!
Please note: This response is provided for informational purposes only. The information contained herein is not legal advice and should not be used as a substitute for the legal advice or legal opinions of a licensed professional. Contact a personal attorney or licensed professional to obtain appropriate legal advice or professional counseling with respect to any particular issue or problem.