Book review: Suddenly in Charge, by Roberta Matuson

To many, 'managing up' smacks of self-interest and sycophancy, but in fact it's fundamental to being an engaged and trusted employee.

by Jo Verdult
Last Updated: 28 Apr 2011

I suspect that, when writing her book on how to master the art of managing upwards, Roberta Matuson didn't expect a foolish reader to leave this guide open on her desk on the chapter entitled 'Dealing with a bad boss' just as her boss popped over for a chat. Good job I could say it was for a book review for Management Today. I think he believes me ...

Or perhaps this is a perfect example of the reality of management - it's the everyday, seemingly small interactions that determine how well a relationship is developing between you and your boss or between you and your team. And recognising that you have the opportunity every single day to influence that relationship, to invest more time in it, to bring something new to it, to try to cultivate it into a happy, mutually beneficial relationship - or, of course, to ignore it at your peril - is at the heart of Matuson's book.

I've been fortunate enough to benefit from working in a company with a seemingly never- ending array of good managers to learn from, but I would be lying if I said there weren't a couple of - to put it politely - challenging bosses along the way. Matuson identifies four types of manager in her book and I think it's safe to say we have all encountered the 'dictator' at some point in our careers. Learning how to respond to such individuals and how to thrive despite them can make that painful working experience incredibly useful. Mostly, so that you don't repeat their mistakes.

So it was with interest and hope for further insight into the top tricks of the trade that I opened Suddenly in Charge, her guide to succeeding at management. The book is based on a successful career in which she was promoted to a managerial role at the age of 24 and has since become a leading career consultant in the US. As requested by the author, I started with the 'managing up' chapters, presumably on the basis that if we're any good at managing up then at some point relatively soon we will then be in the position of managing down.

A refreshingly honest approach in the opening pages led me to think that what would follow would be practical and relevant - she first acknowledges the widely held, if not always expressed, view that in some way recognising the need to manage up is tantamount to being the child at the front of the class who sticks his hand up first. The annoying suck-up. For many, the phrase 'managing up' comes loaded with negative equity, and so to admit that you are keen to find out how to be better at it is the equivalent of announcing that you're a politically motivated goody-two-shoes, whose only interest is in climbing up the greasy pole by serving the ego of your boss.

Worse still are those who view any attempt at managing their boss as a waste of their own time - after all, they should be the one managing me, right?

Thankfully, in her simple breakdown of the tools to help manage your career, Matuson makes it clear that managing up shouldn't be seen as a political exercise but instead is fundamental to being an engaged employee, as most readers of MT would no doubt readily agree.

As well as being an engaged employee, being an engaged manager, the author argues, is key when you find yourself thrust into that role (cue the some- what contrived actual 'flipping' of the book to read the managing down tips).

Drawing on her own experiences as a manager as well as those of others - I particularly appreciated the quote in relation to the overriding need by some managers to be liked: 'If you want to be loved, get a dog' - she moves quickly through a series of familiar situations and identifies best practice in each. From acquiring talent to tactful terminations, Matuson's approach is to boil down management psychologies to real-world examples and key learning points that are reinforced at the end of each chapter.

In this way, both as a guide to managing down and up, the book acts as a timely refresher for those engaged in the daily process of management. Yes, some of it oversimplifies and dwells on the ob-vious (be careful who you attach your star to, don't believe everything you hear); and, yes, the 'key learning points' at the end of every chapter can make you feel as if you're reading course material. But, equally, the points the author makes are critical to successful management. If I had to summarise her most important conclusions, they would be these: Be engaged. Ask questions. Be prepared. Consistently do good work. Build trust.

Actually, I would boil it down to the last point - without trust, you're scuppered. If your team don't trust you they won't work well for you, and if your boss doesn't trust you, you won't get the opportunities you need to succeed.

So, dear boss, I really was reading that book in order to write a review. Trust me.

Suddenly in Charge: Managing up, managing down, succeeding all around

Roberta Matuson

Nicholas Brealey Publishing £14.99

- Jo Verdult is a board account director at advertising agency AMVBBDO and is one of Management Today's 2010 '35 Women Under 35'

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