Editorial - The key to managing upwards

Editorial - The key to managing upwards - In today's superheated competitive arena, with problems around us and pressure from above, it is easy to forget that management is a two-way street. When the boss has just heaped more work on your plate or spoken

by RUFUS OLINS, Editor-in-chief
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In today's superheated competitive arena, with problems around us and pressure from above, it is easy to forget that management is a two-way street. When the boss has just heaped more work on your plate or spoken sharply about something that's going badly, it may seem that the force of management moves only from the top down. But it also works the other way, and that is one of the secrets of an effective team and a successful career.

We all have a boss or people we need onside. And they are usually human at one level or another. Remembering this appears to be the key to managing upwards, according to this month's 'From the Top' feature, in which we asked six people at the top of big organisations how they managed their bosses on the way up the ladder and how they like to be managed by the people who work for them now. They stress the importance of communication so that there are no surprises either way, and of shared priorities. They want to hear about bad news fast. Good news can often wait. After all, how often do you have to change your plans because something has gone right? But it was the human factor that was more prevalent in their advice.

We all know it can be lonely at the top. The figurehead, once a member of the team, will encourage subordinates with occasional praise, suggest ideas and lend a helping hand. But in much the same way as a parent, he or she rarely receives praise from below. One of our advisers suggests that we praise bosses, without being sychophantic, if only to earn the right to criticize when we think they are wrong.

We are also told that we can narrow the gap between us and our senior colleagues, and thus avoid difficulties by being aware of their timescales and the other pressures on them. And we should not resent their taking credit for some of what we do, because they take the ultimate responsibility if the organisation fails to deliver. You could say that part of your job is to make them look good. This contributes to general success and benefits all of us. And why not share a laugh? A sense of humour is essential in keeping sanity in a busy organisation, even at the top. Shared smiles in relaxed moments defuse tensions and are an important part of team-building.

Sir John Harvey-Jones, the renowned corporate troubleshooter, spells it out. 'While management from below may seem to be a contradiction in terms, in reality every boss needs continual constructive help and support.' He points out that relevant decisions and actions are best taken by those who are closest to the problems, and that it is the role of the subordinate to help create an environment that ensures these appropriate actions are taken. Be human and manage up. You will rise with it.

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