We have all been faced with the challenge of working under difficult leadership. Whether managers seem undertrained, misinformed, or overstressed, there is a method we can employ to resolve tensions and create a better work environment. A recent McKinsey study found that managing your manager can lead to higher rates of professional success for both individuals and the business on a large scale, showcasing the importance of this workplace tactic. Below are three scenarios revolving around different managers that illustrates tactics to diffuse tensions, and highlight the power of taking initiative and managing up in the workplace.

Sarah, a creative leader with a great vision for the business but a frazzled management style.

Sarah is a visionary with a myriad of constant innovative solutions and ideas. However, this constant production of ideas led to a frantic work environment where piles of assignments were expected to be completed within a stressful time frames. Sarah’s creative but chaotic way of thinking left everyone with a daunting to-do list. This made it difficult to complete the assignments by their due dates and with the proper quality. Often frustrated employees would be unable to finish their projects before being assigned a new task and felt as though they were drowning in their workload. 

This is where managing up comes into play. With a scattered but innovative boss, you can take the initiative to help them get organized and set realistic expectations. The most important step is to create a simple tasks list--even as an excel sheet works well to help you and your manager track and prioritize projects. With a document delineating newly assigned, currently in progress, and completed work, you can effectively show your boss what is being completed and communicate which items should take priority. Clear communication is also integral, as you should speak honestly with your manager about the time necessary to complete each project properly. By doing this, you are helping your supervisor understand the scope of the work they are assigning. Taking initiative in this situation will help create a more organized and balanced work environment, and ensure that Sarah’s visionary style will continue to produce great products while also stabilizing the workload of the team.

Mike is always stressed about work not getting done. 

This resulted in a high-stress environment with building workplace tensions. Mike is working late almost every day, and coming into the office during the weekends. Practices like these negatively affected both Mike and the team. Employees would receive worried emails at odd hours of the night requesting information about work issues as well as constant pressure from Mike to quickly complete tasks in unrealistic timeframes. 

In this situation, you can utilize managing up to build trust between your supervisor and yourself. By setting clear goals and providing frequent status updates, you can decrease the amount of stress in the workplace, creating a better environment for Mike and your team. Respond to Mike’s emails during reasonable hours, and don’t email him back at 2 a.m., that would encourage unhealthy behavior and more communications during the hours when the team members are supposed to be sleeping and resting. Additionally, forming a strong foundation of communication will increase trust between you and Mike and decrease the number of late night emails and worried messages sent throughout the workday. In this situation, the tactic of managing up revolves around creating a less stressful and more productive work environment by increasing communication and setting expectations. 

Bob was a great engineer who worked diligently for many years in his career and eventually received a promotion to become the manager of his division. 

This shift in employment was a difficult transition as Bob is experienced in the field of STEM but not so much in the field of interpersonal communication, professional guidance, and management. With a mindset far from his current position and little training on being a leader, Bob struggled to understand what his team needed and often distanced himself from his employees during stressful situations. These actions led to a rift between Bob and his team, as there were little to no meaningful interactions, individual meetings, or team conversations. Younger team members also grew frustrated and felt ignored and unsure if their manager was invested in their growth and development. 

Here, managing up takes a more direct form of influencing your boss. In order for Bob to become a better leader, it is important for the team members to take initiative to help him understand their needs. In this situation, proactive employees can schedule one-on-one meetings and request guidance and professional help for major projects from Bob. Moreover, team members interested in advice for future career development should actively open up conversations with Bob about their professional trajectories and future training opportunities instead of waiting for him to initiative these conversations. By proactively communicating your needs to your manager, you can help them understand where you require further direction and assistance, easing the stress of your daily tasks and activities. Understand that not all bosses are great leaders from the start. Many need guidance and experience to become better supervisors, and you can assist with this process by managing up. When you take initiative by scheduling meetings and actively sharing your professional needs, you are helping your manager learn how to better guide you, increasing the overall productivity of your workplace.

These scenarios illustrate challenging conflicts which can be overcome by managing your manager. By taking initiative in situations, we can grow with our bosses, leading to a better professional environment and more engaging workplace. Managing up can be a daunting task, but with open communication and clear objectives, you can have a positive impact on your relationship with leaders in your field. 



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