3 Different Kinds of Bosses and How to Manage Up

“Managing Up” is not a phrase you often hear. The idea that employees should also manage their bosses seems counterintuitive — aren’t higher-ups supposed to be the one in charge?

But when you think about it, the idea that only managers are responsible for the success of a task or a working relationship seems absurd. Your very human boss (the boss who also makes mistakes, can’t always read your mind, and is sometimes — or often! —- beset with personality quirks) needs help so that you’d both arrive at the same place.

To get a better idea of what managing up entails, imagine your boss mouthing the famous Jerry McGuire line: “help me help you.” That’s right, managing up is basically helping your boss manage you.

However you look at it, the skill of managing up will make you a more productive and a less stressed employee. So consider below 3 common types of managers and how you can help them help you.

The firefighter.

These bosses are always in emergency mode; there’s always a raging fire that needs to be put out therefore every task they assign is urgent and important. The problem is you can only attend to one thing at a time. Getting one pressing task after another, and receiving constant “where is the report I asked you to make ten minutes ago?” is the shortest path to an ulcer.

So, how to manage up?

First off, don’t catch their stress. Getting all tense and anxious yourself will keep you from the clear head you need to approach the “crisis” objectively. Instead, calmly explain how much time and resources you have, share what tasks you have on your parking bay, and ask which one is higher in priority. “I have 2 hours to work before the noon deadline. You assigned me to work on report A and B both of which would take 1 hour and ½ to finish. Which would you like me to start working on first?”

Sometimes firefighter bosses simply need to be reminded that you’re a person and not a machine, and that you function better without a ticking clock in your ear. If this approach doesn’t work, explain to your boss that to meet the deadline, you’d have to make some shortcuts, so perhaps output standards can be lowered to meet the timeframe.

The weather disturbance.

You know how these bosses are. Sometimes they want to talk to you, sometimes they don’t. One morning they’re all upbeat and cheery, the next they’re the bearer of doom. There are moments when proposals get approved without question, but catch him or her (hey, mercurial moods are not exclusive to the female sex!) at a bad time, and similar proposals get thrown out of the window.

How to manage up?

Having a moody boss will require your keen powers of observation, especially in the science of behavior. As the chances of calling out your boss without getting burnt is nil, what you need to do is make the adjustments yourself.

Figure out the times your boss is in a good mood. Is he a morning person who works best after 3 cups of caffeine, or does his motor run better during midday? What kind of people get on his nerves? What is his or her communication style? What kind of reporting does he respond best with?

Time your reports when he’s less likely to be cranky. Watch out as well for other signs that he’s in a bad mood so that you can act accordingly. And don’t get mad or hold grudges. Aim for empathy. Perhaps your boss suffers from intense pressure from his or her own bosses, or maybe your boss’ health is not in tip-top shape. If your boss’ mood swings are all bluster anyway — meaning he still gets the job done at the end of the day —  maybe you can afford to be a little more patient.

The laissez-faire to the extreme.

This kind of boss rarely interferes on the daily operations of his department or company. He gives minimal instructions and doesn’t check for accountability. Now, while some degree of autonomy is great for empowering staff, this one is more of the neglect you variety. What’s worse is, when things go wrong, it’s you who takes the blame.

How to manage up?

Now before you get frustrated enough to type that resignation letter, perhaps you can start by increasing your boss’s awareness of that fact that you’re flapping around like fish out of water. It’s easy to make the assumption that your boss is lazy but perhaps he honestly believes you’re better off with less control. Maybe the hands-off approach is because he or she trusts you enough to get the job done. If so, take the proactive route and just constantly ask for directions instead of waiting for instructions to fall out of the sky.

Do your work to the best of your ability and perhaps take the opportunity to shine. Understand your boss’ weaknesses and supplement it when you can. Anticipate potential problems and solve it yourself. Get motivated by the fact that in doing so you’d probably get to replace your boss one day. The move sounds manipulative and tacky at first, but if you’ve already made your boss aware of the problem and he or she does nothing about it, perhaps your boss has it coming. Upper management is going to notice sooner or later who’s greasing the gears and if you’re a better boss for the company, then take the challenge.

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