man sitting on chair beside laptop computer and teacup

Sheila, one of my friends, despises the term. Taking charge of UP.

Sheila enjoys fuming about patriarchal power crap. Sucking up to those in positions of power is corporate jargon.

I understand Sheila’s annoyance with the term. Each social engagement, whether professional or personal, is essentially a meeting of two human beings. There’s no such thing as managing UP, DOWN, or LATERALLY.

Sheila, take a look at the facts. The majority of business CEOs report to a Board of Directors. Their capacity to lead this Board of Directors is critical to their success. Yes, even CEOs must deal with UP.

In my Executive Coaching business, I often get requests like these from CHROs and HR Directors.

  • Joe does an excellent job at running UP. He is, nevertheless, too casual in his interactions with his classmates.
  • Fran is a master at managing her immediate reports. She is apprehensive on the Executive Team and inept at running UP.
  • Ignacio is an excellent manager of UP. He does a good job with DOWN. He must improve his LATERAL partnerships.

We labor inside social power dynamics whether we like it or not, even in relatively “flat” companies. These power imbalances will never go away.

It is in our best interests to recognize them for what they are. And keep track of them. Well.

Here’s an illustration of how these dynamics play out on a multinational manufacturing company’s executive team. Mitch, the CEO, has a staff of eight people working for him right now.

Some of the eight are CEOs of multibillion-dollar businesses that are part of this broader conglomerate. The quarterly team meetings take two full days due to the size of the team. Miriam is one of Mitch’s Executive Team’s mini-CEOs.

This is her rambling, stream-of-consciousness tirade regarding the team dynamics:

These meetings are a pain. Everyone gives a 30-minute status report.

I have a lot of opinions on some of the other companies and their tactics, but I’ve opted to remain silent while they present. I’m not trying to ruffle anyone’s feathers (managing LATERALLY).

When my colleagues submit unimpressive data, I wish Mitch would push them a bit harder. This critique was conveyed to him in private (managing UP).

I’m not sure it made a difference, so at Executive Meetings, I simply try to agree with Mitch whenever he proposes a new proposal (more managing UP). I do this to avoid being labeled as a troublemaker.

Miriam explains how she manages a complicated collection of connections by making a few decisions. Let’s look at four essential Managing UP habits in particular. These actions will help us build a stronger bond with any supervisor or authoritative person.

Learn what motivates your boss(es)

This goes beyond just understanding their strategy objectives and priorities. You DON’T want to miss out on them. However, you should be aware of your boss’s underlying motivations.

What motivates her to wake up in the morning? Winning? Stability? Experimentation? What do you mean, radical honesty? Civility?

When he interacts with you, how does he like to feel? Have a good time? Provoked? Reassured? Energized? Validated?

What are some of the wounds he or she is carrying? Perhaps there was a failed marriage. Health issues that haven’t gone away. Employees who are disloyal. What impact have these scars had on his or her sense of self?

It’s both a cliché and a truth to say that it’s lonely at the top. Your boss, most likely, does not like being alone.

Make yourself one of your boss’s most trusted advisers. Make sure you follow her communication preferences. Know how he like to communicate.

Are you looking for a quick email? Texts? Mini-meetings on the calendar? Calls made on the spur of the moment?

Create a collaborative communication environment that meets your boss’s requirements and desires.

You should always be three steps ahead of your boss (es)

Don’t “force” your supervisor to bombard you with questions. Is this something you’re doing? or Have you considered it? questions.


Being 3 Steps Ahead begins with the knowledge you gained from item #1. So, be ready to go into action. Prepare for difficulties. Make an effort to avoid them.

Look for possible solutions and consider yourself a solution-provider. Providing a solution does not imply focusing only on the PERFECT answer. Remember that most bosses are really intelligent. They want to give you feedback on your ideas.

They have a strong desire to participate. Present your proposed solutions – and then collaborate to develop them.

Take the concept of being ahead a step further – it’s not simple – and become the person who catches a boss off guard with development ideas he or she hasn’t considered. It’s not simple since your super-smart employer is already devoting a significant amount of time to strategic planning.

Demonstrate your strategic abilities. That muscle should be worked out. You should go there.

Instill self-assurance

My Boss Self really wants to think you’re in charge. You don’t want to be worried about your business when you wake up in the middle of the night.

You want to believe in your abilities to do the task. It’s the most valuable present you can offer me.

Please be clear: giving me “happy talk” or telling me what you think I want to hear does not create confidence in me. You don’t make oneself appear nice by sugar-coating things. Don’t try to deceive me.

Knowing that you’ve put together a top-notch team boosts me confidence. When I’m certain that you don’t have any blind spots when it comes to this squad.

When you swiftly bring serious business issues to my notice rather than protecting me from bad news. Most significantly, as I hear your problem-solving suggestions, my confidence builds.

Please bring them.

Last but not least, tell me about your triumphs. Don’t become the worker bee that doesn’t take credit for others’ successes but resents those who do.

Greater success leads to more success. My confidence is bolstered by success tales. Don’t keep them to yourself.

Ensure that your boss(es) are held accountable

You’ve had meetings with employers when you felt terrific afterward – but then nothing happened. There was no follow-up on the ideas that were tossed about.

You had a brief “boss high,” only to be deflated within days.

Most likely, you chose the feel-good option. You didn’t sign a contract with UP. You and your employer have just squandered a lot of get-something-done time, especially if your boss is likewise ready to settle for the feel-good.

The phrase “contracting UP” sounds like this: As the gathering draws to a close, take command by stating Hey, Marge, here are three things I’ll take care of in the next 24 hours based on what we just discussed.

And, if I understand you well, these are the two topics you’ll research following this conversation. Will you be able to complete it next week? Is it okay if I contact you again on Friday?

Simple. Reasonable. Your manager will appreciate the fact that you are serious about your work.

She’ll most likely keep her end of the arrangement. You’ve just signed up for UP. It’s a win-win situation for both you and your employer.

The dynamics of social and positional power are genuine. If we have too much awe for these energies or approach them with too much dread, we will never be able to handle UP properly.

Don’t come to work acting like a small boy or girl who is terrified of authority. Doesn’t it seem self-evident? It is – and it is not simple to do. Our indoctrination as children may be infantilizing and pervasive.

Of course, my buddy Sheila is correct in the end. At the end of the day, it’s always just one person talking to another.

Recognize your power. UP should be managed. Make an excellent job of it.

It all starts with how we manage ourselves.

Thanks to Achim Nowak at Business 2 Community whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.