Managing up is a skill that’s often overlooked. Here 5 common mistakes leaders make while managing up and how to avoid them. You’ll learn to create influence with stakeholders and guide your broader team towards effective results.
Have you ever wondered why some leaders have the ability to influence their senior management team? How do they get their ideas and strategies approved, without any resistance? Why is it easier for some vs. others?
Sometimes you make excuses that they’re someone’s buddy, or they’re really good at sucking up and “playing politics”. But more often than not – the answer is very simple and not as Machiavellian as you think.
They know how to manage up effectively.
Managing up is a broad term, but I define it as creating the space for your team to deliver results.
It’s about creating consistent influence with the relevant stakeholders so your team can efficiently and effectively deliver results.
You’re pre-selling your team’s work (so no one’s surprised or offside).
You’re staying on top of shifting priorities and integrating them (so your team doesn’t waste time on the wrong things).
You’re keeping key people informed and solving problems as you go.
Managing up is a skill that’s often overlooked and deprioritized because when you think of being a great leader to your team, you assume you define your team as people who report to you.
But if you’re only focused on leading your reports, then you’re only doing part of the job.
Leadership goes in all directions; up, down, and across the organization. As the leader, think of yourself as the cog in the wheel, and everything (and everyone) revolves around you. Your job is to make sure the wheel keeps spinning.
If you’re only managing your team and you’re own work, you’re not creating the space for your team to effectively deliver.
Today, I want to offer you 5 common mistakes leaders make while managing up and how to avoid them. You’ll learn to create influence with stakeholders and guide your broader team towards effective results.
Mistake #1: You don’t prioritize managing up.
You’re so busy doing things, you don’t make time to manage up. You think it’s more important to get the work done as fast as possible, which isn’t always the most effective way. And there’s also this need for autonomy where you don’t think you NEED anyone else to weigh into what you’re doing.
That will come back to bite you.
I’m not saying you need to tell everyone everything all the time. But your job as a leader is to know what to tell who, and when, so you can keep the results flowing effectively. Otherwise, you’ll be redoing or changing work well into the process.
Mistake #2: You wait for them to lead.
Sometimes we think our boss is supposed to lead us and tell us what to do. And that’s not completely wrong, but I want to offer that we’re all leaders in charge of leading our own spheres.
Consider the ‘leadership circle’ illustration I shared earlier. Each of us is spinning our own wheel at the same time based on what we’re accountable for. So while your boss is accountable for leading you, you’re also accountable for leading them.
Mistake #3 You only manage up when there’s a problem.
Managing up is an opportunity to demonstrate your leadership to your ‘superiors.’ When you only manage up the problems, your relationships are based on them getting involved in solving your problems.
That’s not a great look for your brand.
I look at managing up as keeping the road clear and the wheels “greased” by building trust with your superiors over time. That means not only managing expectations on possible problems but keeping them up to speed on your strategies for achieving objectives, possible hurdles and influencing the solutions, mining stakeholder concerns (which they may not think to offer), reading between the lines… all the things.
Basically, you’re in charge of facilitating a consistent dialogue with all the key people.
Mistake #4: You tell vs. influence.
Don’t simply tell your stakeholders what your team is working on. When you do that, their brains start assessing the idea, trying to figure out how it fits in, and what could go wrong, they find problems you’ve already thought of … on and on.
Instead, make it easy for them to understand what you’re doing and support you. Set up the objective, strategies, and hurdles so your team’s work seems like the logical solution.
However, you also don’t want to overwhelm your audience. There’s a nuance to doing this that you’ll learn by trial and error. I like setting up the BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front) and set up the team’s solutions as simply and efficiently as possible.
Mistake #5: You get intimidated by titles and rank.
Leaders aren’t impressed when you’re overly humble or defer to them just because of rank. And they’re definitely not impressed when you don’t engage them because you didn’t want to bother them.
Just because someone is senior to you doesn’t mean they’re smarter or a better leader. And it doesn’t mean they have all the answers. However, it can mean they have a different perspective because they have access to different information.
The sooner you stop thinking of these people as someone you need to impress and rather people who are part of your team, the more effective team leader you’ll become.
Bottom Line: Leadership goes in all directions; up, down and across the organization.
If you’re not prioritizing managing up, you’re not doing your job as a leader, and your team’s results will suffer.