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When Managing Up Means Managing Ourselves



Managing up is a frequent topic in coaching. It sounds like: How do I get buy in about my idea from my supervisor? My manager’s leadership style conflicts with mine—what do I do? How can I get more projects that I enjoy? My boss drives me crazy with their (fill in the blank)—how do I get them to stop?


There are tactics for managing up:

  • Knowing your manager’s style and aligning with it in your communications;

  • Getting clear about your manager’s goals and laying the planks to connect your thoughts/ideas/proposals with those aims;

  • Understanding and leveraging your manager’s value system in your interactions

  • Highlighting your accomplishments while celebrating others’ successes


The Harvard Business Review has a number of tactical articles about this topic, here.


What’s more interesting to me are what self-knowledge and self-management look like in the context of managing up. The questions this lens evokes are:

  • If you were 100% responsible for your relationship with your manager, what would you change?

  • How does your manager trigger you? And what does invite you to look at?

  • Where is there alignment and misalignment between your values and those of your manager and organization, and how do you want to navigate that from an empowered stand?

  • How are you leveraging your strengths with your manager, and how have your challenges become obstacles?

  • What is your manager here to teach you about how you want to operate in the world, get things done, and manage conflict?

  • What perspective are you holding about your relationship with your manager? What perspective do you want to have instead?

  • How are you practicing self-care and continuously sourcing yourself, so that you can maintain grounding and presence in your work and life?

  • How are you cultivating your ability maintain perspective in the midst of intense emotion and conflict?


We can’t “manage up” until we manage ourselves.

We need to get clear on our vision, our values, who and how we want to be in our relationships, what our priorities are, where our self-management breaks down, what triggers our defense mechanisms, and so on.


When we come from a calm, expansive, empowered place, “managing up” becomes simpler. We attune to the situation at hand, express our needs with conviction, and use our wealth of experience and insight to communicate and frame our wants and needs for the organization and ourselves.


Don’t buy it?


Let’s consider a common work conflict: feeling that I have more work than my colleagues. If I were using traditional “managing up” principles, I might appeal to values of fairness, or well-being, or reference the inefficiency. Notice that it’s all directed at my manager, without a whiff of self-insight. In the midst of this conversation, they would say something that would touch a nerve, and I would get frustrated and tell them (with more punch than I might like) to find someone else to take on the next project.


With a bit of self-management and reflection, I would recognize that I feel resentful and exhausted about my work hours, so of course I get heated quickly. I would recognize that my priorities are having an open, honest, conversation, and maintaining our good relationship. I would own that I need to be grounded, calm, and curious as we problem solve together.


A conversation from this place looks radically different. I can still state my needs and wants, but coming from a different quality of being: not tactical or adversarial, but as partners.

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