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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Help yourself by managing upward

By Vicky Smith
Sun Media


Effectively managing upward is crucial in reducing stress and negativity in the workplace and serves to correct miscommunication and rumours within organizations.


By doing so, you can take ownership over your job satisfaction, rather than expecting your manager to use a crystal ball to anticipate your needs.

You may be one of several staff your manager is responsible for, often involving daily business demands and pressures that require more attention than your issues. Developing skills to manage upward helps you get the answers you need to diminish your stress.

Key communication skills

Michael Useem defines this in his book, Leading Up: How to Lead Your Boss So You Both Win: "Leading up is the act of working with people above you -- whether one boss, several bosses, a chief executive, a board of directors or even stockholders -- to help them and you get a better job done."

Learning to do this provides an opportunity to develop key communication skills such as persuasion, negotiation and conflict resolution. To accomplish your goals, you need support, co-operation and commitment from your manager.

Issues can be discussed formally, such as at yearly performance reviews or quarterly review meetings where goal-setting takes place.

Often, though, problems arise in advance of these formal meetings and we're uncertain how to introduce them. Whether you plan to tackle key issues in a formal meeting or speak to your manager as concerns develop, there are two important skills to master.

The most important is taking responsibility for your issues and initiating discussions with your manager.

Len Schlesinger, in "It Doesn't Take a Wizard to Build a Better Boss" in Fast Magazine (http://fastcompany.com/on line/03/boss.html), said: "You can sharpen your skills, advance your career, develop your character . . . by asking questions and taking the situation in hand."

Instead of taking personal responsibility, we often expect managers to be mind readers. We have difficulty understanding that our pressing concerns are not a priority for our boss. We then start complaining to co-workers or friends instead of going directly to the person who has decision-making authority.

Schlesinger writes: "Everybody complains about the same thing: The boss doesn't listen. The boss doesn't offer encouragement. The boss doesn't recognize superior effort.

"Whatever the specific language, the theme is always the same: there's something wrong with the boss."

Fear of losing their jobs is the other reason people don't approach their managers. With all the turmoil in our economy, and seeing friends and relatives as victims of downsizing and mergers, many people feel intimidated and stay silent.

It's important to recognize if you are unhappy in your job, your performance will suffer, so it is to your advantage to initiate discussions about concerns rather than have your manager come to discuss your performance.

The other important skill in managing upward is preparing to achieve a win/win result -- you get what you want, but your manager gets something, too. One of the best communication skills I learned early in my career is to come to my manager with possible solutions, not just problems.

Think about the times people approach you with problems, but no idea on how to deal with them, thus making you feel like you've been handed full responsibility and blame. How do you react? Resistance and defending your positions become the priorities and the importance of the issues is lost to both parties. The best way to avoid such a destructive discussion is to plan your presentation.

Be prepared

In preparing for a meeting with your manager you need to:
  • Check your motive. If your motive is not productive or positive, you cannot expect a positive or productive response.
  • Clearly define what your issues are. The biggest mistake most people make is not identifying the most important issue and then discussing only that.
  • Analyse possible solutions to meet your goals. Identify not only what you can gain from each solution, but also what your manager will gain. For example, if there is a training course you want to take and budgets are tight, identify how you will do your job better or how the department will be more productive or how you will save time and costs by being given the opportunity to take this course.
  • Be prepared to listen to your manager's side of the story. By actively listening, you become open to understanding the situation your manager is in because what you want may not be possible now. Creative problem-solving that meets your needs happens when you are prepared to collaborate instead of taking a stand.

    Barbara Moses, in her excellent book, The Good News About Careers -- How You'll Be Working in the Next Decade, defines managing upward as being a career activist: "Career activism means becoming an intelligent actor in your life: developing a thorough understanding of your current situation and then taking steps to change it for the better."

    -- Vicky Smith is owner of Contact Human Resource Group contacthrg@lon.imag.net



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