3 Steps to Managing your Manager

Written by Mary Legakis Engel

In October 2017 I conducted a survey of 187 managers. The majority of respondents had over 10 years of experience managing people. Overwhelmingly the respondents prioritized managing up as the highest ranked topic they would find most useful to receive training on.

Conversely, these managers experienced training programs primarily targeted at managing down. It begs the question then… where does one learn how to manage up? Let’s start here…Managing your manager requires three basic management tenants.

  1. Situational sensitivity
  2. Style flexibility
  3. Courage
Managing Your Boss

Situational Sensitivity
Situational sensitivity is the skill of being able to read a situation for the dynamics it contains. When it comes to managing your boss, that involves understanding and appreciating:

  • Your manager’s inherent personality
  • Your manager’s primary work objectives and priorities, as provided by his/her manager
  • The challenges your manager is experiencing in achieving his/her objectives and priorities
  • Your manager’s personal stresses

Your ability to sense or discover these dynamics is directly correlated to the extent to which you can transcend any emotional frustration, resentment or infatuation that you have with your manager. You must be able to neutrally and objectively see your manager’s situation without baggage.

Style Flexibility
Style flexibility is the skill of knowing the four different management styles of the 3D Managerial Effectiveness Theory (Dr. Bill Reddin), and being able to choose the most appropriate style when interacting with your manager. Here’s what they would look like…

Developer Style: Best used with a stubborn or strong willed, opinionated manager. Be curious and ask non-challenging questions until your manager has exhausted all his/her opinions on a topic and arrives at a place of “I don’t know the answer to that.” This creates an opportunity for collaboration, that gives you the opportunity to state your opinion. You can also use this style to learn more about your manager’s situation and gain situational sensitivity.

Benevolent Autocrat Style: Sometimes managers need to be told what to do. They spend all day being expected to have all the answers, and that can be very stressful. I once had a client who was waiting for a report that his manager had committed to providing him weeks earlier. It was the 11th hour, and my client needed the report. I suggested he hijack his next 1-on-1 and simply tell his manager that he would use that time to wait for the report he needed. My client proceeded to sit in the corner of his manager’s office, and worked on his own laptop for one hour while his manager produced the report.

Collaborator Style: I often have to remind clients: do not be part of the problem, be part of the solution. When you disagree with your manager, it can be very tempting for you to engage in debate or start to complain. That can create stress for your manager. If you create stress for your boss, that makes you part of the problem. The collaborator seeks to build on ideas rather than destroy others’ ideas. Instead of debating or complaining, see how you can understand the situation more fully and adapt your point of view.

Administrator Style: This is the style of process and procedures. I once had an event participant describe this scenario to me: One of her colleagues was under-performing in her role. Her manager had been contemplating re-orienting that colleague to focus elsewhere so they could get more done as a team. My event participant was getting frustrated – nothing was happening. Her manager wasn’t pulling the trigger. I suggested to her that her manager might be struggling to see the path from where he is now, to the outcome he wants. “The only path he sees is the one where he’s the bad guy, and he doesn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.” I asked her to focus on working with him to build the decision-making process that will get him from point A to point B without being the bad guy. Focus on the process, and you’ll produce a better outcome.

Each of these styles is equally helpful, but only when used at the right time. Knowing the right time takes situational sensitivity. You need both.

​The only difference between managing your manager and managing your employee is that it takes a different type of courage and mindset. You have to be willing to acknowledge that your manager is human and imperfect, and to set your expectations of them at the human, and not super-human level. Then you have to be willing to expand your own style to behave differently than what you might be used to… and that takes courage.

Mary Legakis Engel is The Management Coach and a recognized speaker, coach, consultant and business executive. Mary has been advising, consulting and coaching leaders and managers on effective management and how to grow their businesses while continuously engaging their employees for over 15 years.