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A Story: Successful Managing Up

I once worked with a woman who was very smart, a great manager, and very effective. She was somewhat quiet, but knew exactly where and how to make a maximum impact.

One thing I noticed was that when she spoke, her manager was a always in agreement. Even when the team was debating and discussing heated topics, when she spoke, her manager almost always sided with her.

One day I said to her “it must be great to have a manager who you agree with all the time”. She laughed and said “yes, I’d like to be in that situation some day”. I told her that I always saw the boss agree with her.

She then shared her technique with me. She said that over the months she worked for the boss, she spent a lot of time asking questions - how did he feel about certain topics, how did he think through problems, how did he like to be communicated with, etc. Then, she adapted her behaviors to maximize the ability to understand him and help him. Once she built the personal and professional trust, she told him that she would always offer her opinion, but would only do so forcefully when she was extremely confident in her position.

I wasn’t seeing her manager thinking like her, I was seeing an employee who demonstrated value and communicated effectively. She had built up so much trust, that when she felt strongly about something, the manager knew she was skilled and confident, so he simply took her side.

She had managed the relationship with her boss and was in a position that everyone assumed was power, but was completely trust. She didn’t do it TO gain power, but that is exactly what it ended up giving her.

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