Lately I have noticed a trend in business magazines: Talking about management like it is a game, with rules and strategies for winning. Some articles offer useful advice for career advancement, but others can send you down the wrong path when they suggest certain moves.
This one is the worst of the newfangled suggestions. “You need to learn how to manage your boss.”
I have read quite a few different definitions for managing up. You “help your boss to do her job.” You “learn to speak her language.” There are even entire books about learning to manage your boss. One writer describes managing up as “helping your boss carry her own weight.”
You may think that sounds reasonable, a win-win for everyone, right? I mean, what is so wrong with studying your boss and learning to speak her language? You simply want to improve your communication, make life easier for everyone, including yourself. You also want to take more control over your own career.
But time and experience has taught me to be wary of advice that sounds like career mumbo-jumbo, and you should too.
Once you examine this notion of managing up to your boss, your instinct might tell you that it is a little sneaky, and it feels a little wrong to operate this way. Here is why you should not ignore that uncomfortable feeling.
No matter how you justify the idea, the underlying assumption is this: Your boss is not entirely capable of doing her job, and requires your stable and controlling hand. And if your career is helped in the process, well, so be it.
This is the one secret that every great manager knows — you should not try to manage up because it is obvious when you do and worse, detrimental to your career.
Even if you believe that you have the most addle-brained boss in the world, and this is the only way she can be helped, your good intentions can still backfire on you.
Here is how that dubious advice can lead you to trouble:
You do not do your job
You are so busy worrying about managing perceptions that you start to neglect your own work — and you certainly will not score points with management there. You only have time and energy for one job. Let your boss do her work and concentrate on doing yours to the best of your ability.
You develop tunnel-vision
Focusing too narrowly on what you think your manager needs will cause you to lose perspective and miss out on the larger picture of what is happening in the company — as well as new opportunities that are coming your direction. Better to focus on how your own role fits into the larger strategy of the organization, and grow that way.
You become known as a “player”
When you manage up to your boss, others will start to perceive you differently. Your co-workers will recognize what you are doing — the game you are playing — and you will start to lose their trust. Do you want the reputation of a schemer or a manipulator, or would you rather be known for your hard work and results?
You sacrifice the company for yourself
When you manage up, your motives become clear: You have lost your way and are looking out for Number One. You are no longer making the company’s goals your own, but concentrating on your self-interests. The moment you start putting your own career goals ahead of your employer’s, you are headed for trouble.
There is nothing wrong with being ambitious and wanting to get ahead in your career. But there are better ways to shine at work than managing up to your boss.
Here is some advice that you can depend on: Forget the games. Focus on working hard, being honest and dependable, and simply doing your job to the best of your ability.
That is the surest way to earn respect and make a lasting impression on your manager, and anyone else who might be watching.
What other secrets do great managers know about you?