Managing Up With Authenticity: Tips To Get The Most From Your Boss

Managing Up With Authenticity: Tips To Get The Most From Your Boss

Originally published on Forbes.

“When I was moved to my current manager, I wanted to make a good impression. I figured out early on that she liked to talk about herself, so I usually start our one-on-ones with a question and just let her talk. When I do bring an issue to her, I always have a solution.” Sarah, a director in a tech company, thought she was managing up. But Sarah has been so focused on keeping her boss happy that she has not communicated her own aspirations and struggles. Afraid to show any weakness, she’s sacrificed authenticity and failed to develop a real relationship. “She hasn’t really advocated for me or my team,” says Sarah. “I don’t feel I can go to her for advice about my career, because she doesn’t really know me.”

Managing up is more than just keeping your boss happy. Building a strong, trusting relationship with your manager can be a powerful lever for your success. Every manager has strengths and weaknesses, and understanding them is essential to managing up well. Your boss should be a resource for you and your team, so if your manager isn’t initiating conversations about priorities, goals, working styles or professional development, you need to be proactive. Skillful employees can actually help their bosses become better managers. Here are some tips for managing up: 


Know your manager’s vision and priorities and how they fit in with the organization’s mission. To be successful, you need to help your boss achieve her goals, and you will be most effective if you understand her priorities and how they fit with the bigger picture goals of the organization. The vision provides the context and “why” of the work you are doing, thus allowing you to align your priorities, motivate your team, anticipate challenges and opportunities and influence the vision over time. If your manager doesn’t give clear priorities, you will need to take a more active approach to elicit guidance. 


Just as important as learning about your boss’s vision is understanding her working style and communications preferences. If you love the details but your manager is a “headlines” kind of person, you must learn to streamline your message and share only necessary details. If she likes structure, come to every meeting with an agenda. You also need to be prepared to fill in your boss’s gaps. If she gets carried away by an inspiring idea, help her think through the practicalities. At the start of the relationship, ask your boss about her preferences and then periodically check in about how it’s going. You can also observe their interactions with others to pick up additional hints.

Communicate and Calibrate

One of the most important aspects of managing up is strong communication with your manager. This is both about pull–getting information and context from your boss, which requires you to ask good questions and listen deeply, as well as cascade communication out to your direct reports, and push–communicating upwards the necessary information, sharing your ideas, insights and requests and providing feedback. Caution: you must be intentional and thoughtful about your message. While honest, open communication with your boss is ideal, it is important to calibrate how and when to show your vulnerability. Sarah created too much distance between herself and her boss by never sharing her concerns and insecurities. However, over-sharing can result in a loss of confidence. Begin with a modest experiment and see how your manager responds to test the level of psychological safety.

Take responsibility 

Whether you are a leader, middle manager or individual contributor, take responsibility for what needs to be done. Anticipate opportunities and challenges, and proactively communicate them to your manager. Own your decisions and especially your mistakes, and don’t point the finger of blame, which ultimately just makes you look weak. Sarah was right to bring proposed solutions to her boss rather than just laying the problem at her feet, but she would have done better to share more of her concerns and engage her manager in conversation. Finally, take responsibility for your career development and initiate periodic development conversations with your boss. If he doesn’t respond, look for informal mentors or other organizational leaders to support your growth.

Share credit

As important as it is to take responsibility, it is vital to share credit. Be generous with credit and stingy with blame. Acknowledge the contributions of others and promote their ideas and showcase their successes. If peers and reports perceive that you manage up by taking all the credit, it will undermine their trust and damage your working relationship. Managing up is only part of your job, and building trust with your manager must not be at the expense of building trust with your own co-workers. They need to know you have their back and are advocating for them.

There is no one-size-fits all approach, but following these guidelines will help you not only keep your boss happy but also advance your team’s agenda and your own career, as well.