4 ways to get ahead by managing up.

  • career advice
  • August 16, 2018

The path to promotion is paved with good relationships — and no relationship is more critical to your career growth and professional development than the one you have with your manager. Not only is your manager going to be a key figure for mentorship, but he or she will also be your ally and advocate when it comes to bonuses, promotions and more.

Ready to build the best possible relationship with your manager and grow your career? Here are four ways to make that happen.

make your manager look good (without sucking up)

The best way to achieve something positive like making your manager look good is by avoiding the negative: that is, ensuring your manager never gets blindsided by an unforeseen issue. While that will sometimes mean putting out fires — or, better yet, preventing them from starting in the first place — there are also a ton of little things you can do to make a big difference.

For instance, if you know your manager is going to deliver a presentation before the board, why not volunteer to do a final proof of the slides to make sure "compliant" doesn't read "complaint"? When your manager looks good, you look good — and together you'll both be well-positioned for growth.

always come to problems with solutions

No manager wants a direct report who just brings them problems. Every manager, on the other hand, wants direct reports who bring them solutions. So before you tell your boss that something's broken, take a step back and ask yourself how you'll propose to fix it.

The secret to being an effective problem solver is to approach every issue with a clearly defined, repeatable framework. While there are many different frameworks to consider, the following three-step framework remains one of the most reliable:

  • Pinpoint the problem: You can't solve a problem if you don't know the cause. But, when initially identifying the problem, it's important for you to be as specific as possible. Let's imagine a scenario in which a report for a client raised red flags. What about the report created the issue? How do you know? And what kind of timeline is realistic for fixing it? Answer these questions about the problem and you'll be ready to work on repairing it. 
  • Work backward toward a solution: Now that you've specifically defined the problem, you'll need to ask a few additional questions about circumstances. In the example of the report, you might ask: Who authored that portion of the report? Where did their information come from? Does the issue lie in the language of the report, or in the client's expectations? Think about the people or processes that appear coincident with the issue — correlation isn't causation, of course, but it can give you valuable clues as to the culprit. And once the root cause has been identified, identifying corrective measures should be straightforward. 
  • Fix it: Now that you've concretely determined how to fix the issue, the only question is who should be in charge of implementing that solution — and that person doesn't need to be you. Your manager won't expect you to be able to fix every problem that arises. Often enough, just being able to point to the best party, department or function to address an issue will qualify you for praise. 

tips for handling a hands-off manager

A manager who trusts you to handle your work without a lot of oversight can be a blessing, but sometimes trust in your essential competence can start to feel like neglect. Plus, when you don't have extensive day-to-day interaction with your manager, it can be difficult to develop the kind of tight relationship that often translates to promotions down the line.

The first step is to identify what's bothering you. Is it that you're missing out on mentorship opportunities? Do you want to have more feedback and follow-up (which is especially critical for millennials)? Or perhaps it feels like your manager, by being absent, actually doesn't see the value in your work?

Any one of these is a valid reason, so try to pinpoint which is the exact cause of your grievance before you schedule a meeting — but definitely schedule a meeting. Have a frank but professional conversation about why you need your manager to be more present, and make sure it's about the quality of your work, not your personal need for more attention. Your manager is likely going to be receptive and willing to change course.

take a tactful approach with a new manager

Whenever a new manager joins a company, there will inevitably be a period of adjustment — and that's good news for you. By making a good first impression and positioning yourself as a reliable ally, you'll be well-positioned to advance later on. One strategy: offer to help as much as possible. Your new manager is likely going to have a thousand questions — about organizational structure, stakeholders, logistics, processes and more — and who better than you to answer them? You should also try to get a read on your new manager's communication style, and tailor your own communication accordingly.

Ultimately, by adopting the right strategy, almost any situation can be turned to your advantage — and building a strong relationship with your manager is going to be an essential component of advancing your career. Understanding short- and long-range goals and objectives, anticipating needs and fostering an open line of communication will go a long way toward getting you there.

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