21 Oct Managing Up: 3 Ways To Help Your Boss Be A Better Boss
As I got up from the conference room chair and walked out of the room, I had a certain swagger to my gait. I felt a sense of pride as I left that management staff meeting… I really made some powerful decisions in there. Maybe this police chief job wasn’t so hard after all. I thought to myself “I got this!”
I was basking in the glow of my own ego as I walked into my office, when suddenly my door closed behind me and my Deputy Chief was standing there with a particularly concerning look on his face. My trusted advisor, my partner for over 25 years was now staring at me, as if I had just taken his lunch money away from him.
“What’s up, buddy?”
“What exactly were you thinking in there with that personnel decision?” he said with a questioning but respectful tone.
“Did you think about the HR implications? Did you know he had prior offenses in his file? I have been working with the City Attorney on this case for a few weeks. Did you think to ask me about it before you made that call in the meeting?”
I was dumbstruck. I really had no good response other than “I’m sorry. I should have talked to you first.”
This was not the first time and most certainly not the last time, I had a member of my staff help me to “course correct” after I made a hasty decision. Fortunately for me, I was always surrounded by trusted men and women who were not afraid to confront me or question me on a particular decision or issue. Honestly, it made me so much better as a leader.
Far too many times, when I talk about “managing up” or helping your boss to be a better boss, I get this typical response…”Well, that is not my job” or “I don’t get paid for that.” Of course, one can hold that perspective, but if we are talking about being better leaders and enhancing our organizations, it is important to think more globally.
Based on my experience, there are three main tips that can help you manage up. I am sure there are many more, but these are the three that worked the best for me:
1. Be Curious and Ask Why
If you simply take what your boss is telling you for granted or you are treating it as gospel, simply because she has been on the job longer than you or gets paid more than you, then you could be making a mistake. Bosses are not perfect. You are not perfect. If we can open our minds, be curious, ask questions, do our own research, we may find that the boss has chosen a path that could be a problem. It is incumbent on you to ask those questions and then appropriately bring up those issues in a timely manner. Hopefully, the climate in your organization is such that this type of questioning and curiosity is allowed, maybe even encouraged.
2. Be Brave
I know what some of you may be thinking.
You want me to question my boss??? What if he/she gets upset with me? What if it affects my ability to move up in the organization later on? What if there is retaliation?
The reality is you could live your life “What if’ing” all day long or you could focus on the things over which you have control. If you approach your supervisor at the right time, under the right circumstances and for the right reasons, you will find it to be more effective. Obviously, you don’t want to question the boss in front of the team or her peers. These conversations are best held in private. Also, choosing the right time to discuss it is very important. Don’t decide to have this conversation right before your boss is headed to an important meeting or to give a critical presentation or heading out for the weekend. Choose your timing wisely.
3. Pick and Choose Your Battles
No one wants to be critiqued and questioned on every single decision they make and you don’t want to be that person. Think about the issue at hand and do a quick cost/benefit analysis. Is it a significant issue that could negatively impact the team or the organization if left alone? Focus on the decisions that could have significant negative effects on team dynamics, efficiency and effectiveness or employee morale.
If your boss is like many of the bosses I worked for over the course of my career, he or she will truly appreciate you bringing these issues to the fore and ensuring that you are all moving in the right direction as a team. I know that I really appreciated that feedback, even if my ego took a minor hit in the process. The more you, as a leader, can humble yourself and keep your ego in check, the more likely you will receive this constructive feedback in a positive manner.
Now, more than ever, we need strong, resilient and thoughtful people in our organizations who are willing to speak up when something is not right. Doing the right thing is always better than “being right.”
If you like this content and want to see more of it, please subscribe for updates at www.chiefleadership.com/join. Also take a minute to read about our Executive Coaching and Leadership Training Programs.
Lead on and stay safe!