Managing UP

How to Successfully Manage Your Boss,
Lead WithOUT Authority and Get Things Done

By Pamela Gilchrist, MA, APR, CPT

To be successful in your job, you must know and understand your boss. Knowing how he/she thinks and works is critical to your success in your job. Once you figure this out, you are well on your way to greater personal success and less stress.

If you’ve worked anywhere for more than a nano-second, you know that the competencies and skills that got you hired, aren’t the ones that will keep you employed. Instead, you no doubt spend time on politics, turf-wars, gossip, networking… and most important of all – making your boss a happy camper.

Try A Little Love And Tenderness

Your boss faces unimaginable pressure from his boss. Stupidity abounds. Deadlines are shortened. Emergencies happen. Trust me. He’s paddling as fast as he can. So why not show a little compassion and make his life easier instead of whining?

Trying to manage your boss makes sense because it makes your job easier. In the classic Harvard Business Review article: “Managing Your Boss”, John Kotter and John Gabarro suggest four fundamentals that you must follow:

  1. Goals and objectives
  2. Pressures and issues
  3. Strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
  4. Preferred work style

Then, you need to do the same for yourself.

Just simply focusing on these four fundamentals will help you achieve phenomenal results. As Kotter and Gabarro discovered in their research, it may seem an unusual expectation to “manage up” but the need to do so is obvious. “Just think of the job and how to be effective in it. How do you get the resources you need, the information you need, the advice, even the permission to keep at it? The answers always point toward whoever has the power, the leverage – that is, the boss. To fail to make that relationship one of mutual respect and understanding is to miss a major factor in being effective.”

Managing Has Nothing To Do With Changing Someone

Just as in your personal relationships, the sooner you figure out that you can’t change anyone else – you can only change yourself, the better. We all cry the “If only he….” Well forgetta about it. It ain’t gonna happen!

Instead, spend your effort coming to understand what makes your boss tick, and develop an effective working relationship. Accept that your boss is human, with strengths and limitations just like yourself. Understand each others strengths and weaknesses. Leverage strengths. Learn how you can help your boss compensate for weaknesses.

To Manage Your Boss – Find Out What Works

In “The Effective Executive”, Drucker suggests that some people are “listeners” and others are “readers”. Some prefer to talk to understand, others must first read before discussing. If your boss is a listener, brief her in person and then follow up with a memo. If she is a reader, cover important points of your proposal in a memo or report, and then discuss them. How can you encourage you boss to be involved in doing more things that they are good at? Remember this isn’t something you’re trying to do to your boss. Rather you’re trying to do things and communicate ideas in a way that relates to their strengths and resonates with them.

Build Your Relationship

Building your relationship with your boss depends on good, regular, open communication. This should ideally help build trust, respect and understanding. Your ability to influence your boss will depend on how well you’ understood the “four factors”: goals, pressure, strength and weaknesses, and preferred style.

Remember: When Your Boss is More Effective,
So Are You!

The number one lesson here is this: work gets far easier for you and your colleagues when you’re able to manage your boss. The result can also be a more effective boss. The more effective your boss – the happier everyone is.

Top Six Questions About Managing Up

  1. Do you need to manage your boss?
  2. Is it possible to manage your boss?
  3. Is it a strategic career move?
  4. Is it smarmy?
    No. Not if it’s done with the right intention.
  5. Does your boss know you are reading this?
  6. Does your boss want you to know this stuff?
    You betcha!


About the author:

Pam Gilchrist will be our keynote speaker at the 2011 ACI national conference in Cincinnati, Ohio. She is a Fortune 100 leadership and communications expert and serves as chief strategist at the Gilchrist Group, an award-winning business consulting and communications firm based in Cincinnati. Her passion is teaching others how to influence, engage and inspire.

She works with organizations to have more impact in three key areas:

  • Breakthrough Business Strategies
  • Executive Leadership
  • High Impact Communications

The Gilchrist Group® is a strategic business consulting and communications firm. Founded in 1999, the firm works with organizations during times of dramatic growth and change to develop communications strategies that engage stakeholders and grow influential thought-leaders. Follow her on Twitter @pamgilchrist or email her at