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Leading Up

Leading Up

4 months ago by David Sweet
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​The majority of management training centers around team management (hire, train, and retain), individual performance, and exceeding targets. Yet, more careers crash and burn from the neglect of managing up, not down. Obviously, managers must manage subordinates, putting points on the board and winning games, but neglect leading up at your own peril!

Historically, leading up carries connotations of “lackey,” “minion,” “yes-man,” and colorful phrases like “sucking up to the boss” and “brown-nosing.” Succeeding managers ignore this and know their boss wants a positive, trustful confidant, their eyes and ears, someone to help them look good to their employees, peers, and superiors. If a manager knows how to do that for their boss, then most likely, they will more quickly move up in the ranks. 

Here are 3 guidelines to lead up and accelerate your career. 

Don’t upstage your boss. For young ambitious managers who have been taught to sing their accomplishments, this can be an Achilles’ heel. By all means, celebrate wins and build credibility on capabilities and strengths. However, do not leave your boss in the shadows: keep your boss in the limelight… until she shines her light on you. 

Cultivate the relationship with your boss.Definitely, on professional level, but if possible, also on a personal level. Your goal is to make her look good. Sing her praises to those you manage and to your boss’s boss. Too many managers blame their boss when things go wrong. Doing this highlights your own weakness: subordinates hear it as an excuse and the boss’s boss wonders why you're not doing your job instead of making excuses. Remember, your subordinates already see you as your bosses lackey, so you might as well side with them. 

Action steps: 

  • Assess is your current relationship…

  • What are ways to strengthen the relationship?

  • How can you help your manager be more successful, look better in the organization?

  • How can you help your manager have more time?

  • How can you communicate more effectively with your manager?

  • What’s the appropriate frequency to meet with your manager?

Cultivate relationships with your boss’s boss & peers.By doing this, you make your boss look good. You don’t want to outshine your boss, but rather sing praises about your boss to them. Make her look good and it shows that you're trustworthy, dependable, and understand leadership. It also cultivates a good relationship with your boss so that when they move up, hopefully their movement will mean a promotion for you. In contrast, if your boss doesn’t take care of you when they leave, you have other cultivated relationships to insulate you, protect you, and help your career trajectory. 

Action steps: 

  • Assess is your current relationship

  • What are ways to strengthen the relationship?

  • What conversations might you need to have?

  • Which leaders can you build a relationship? 

  • What’s important to them, professionally and personally?

  • What are your ideas to show value the them?

  • Who can help you develop the relationship?


David Sweet is the founder and CEO of FocusCore Japan, a leading executive search firm. He is author of six books and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Development. For more information, contact him at David@FocusCoreGroup.com.