Managing Up the Corporate Ladder - How Can You Empower Your Boss?
Updated: Sep 8, 2021
It makes no difference whether you're in your first job or an experienced CEO reporting to a board of directors—empowering your bosses and managing how they perceive you are part of the job. By understanding the objectives of those to whom you report and helping them attain their goals, you ensure their success and, by association, your own.
Good leaders know to appoint smart people with skills that complement their own. So, if your boss’ inefficiency or perceived incompetence frustrates you, maybe that’s the reason you’re there. But “managing up” can involve treading a fine line—at heart, it's about building a relationship of mutual trust and respect. How to do that may differ depending on the situation and the personalities involved.
Establish Shared Understanding
Exactly what your boss wants you to take off their shoulders might not be immediately apparent—to either of you. It will also depend on whether you can demonstrate your trustworthiness to complete the tasks adequately. If you see your boss overwhelmed or irritated by work you know you can handle, do what you can to reduce the burden. Think of a sports team where the players must work together to score. Almost as bad as a player not doing what they're told is the player who blindly only does what they’re told.
In asking if you can take something over, briefly explain how you'd approach it. Doing this will either give your boss confidence you can handle it or provide an opportunity to correct and redirect you. Either way, you move forward.
Until you've established clarity of your domain and won your boss' trust, it's a good idea to inform them of any significant decisions you've had to make. As a guideline, relay anything you suspect your boss may have made a different call on, anything with significant financial implications, and anything that might affect other departments or leaders in the company. If you make a mistake, request the opportunity to correct it—again, explaining how you intend to move forward. Over time, you will establish a way of working that works for both of you.
Even Good Surprises Can Be Bad
Regularly communicate your progress on projects, whether you're on track, behind, or even ahead. It might sound like a good idea to surprise your boss with a fait accompli earlier than expected, but if they find out from someone else first, it could appear as if they're not on top of what's happening in their own department. They might also have planned to contribute something else to the project themselves. Speeding ahead denies them a chance to influence the outcome as they would have liked.
Let Your Boss Know How to Help You
Obtain approval of milestones and timelines for projects. Also, advise your boss of any roadblocks or impediments you are facing or anticipate facing. But do this with a solutions-oriented approach; that is, by suggesting possible remedies. Your boss may have a better answer or the relationships and authority to smooth things out. This is very different from dumping something unfinished in your boss' lap and walking away. It's about developing a relationship of colleagues working together and using their respective skills to get the job done.
Be Supportive and Trustworthy
Just like you need to know you’re supported and trusted, make your boss feel like you have their back. Don’t get involved in office politics and gossip, and never discuss or repeat something you know wasn't intended to be disseminated. If you disagree with your boss’ decisions or approach, address it privately, one-on-one. If you don’t “win” the discussion, accept your boss’ authority and proceed professionally.
How the people around you perceive you can determine how far you progress within an organization. Having the trust, respect, and support of a good manager is a great starting point. For the organization's good, managers should have an interest in seeing high-performance employees progress upward—but your boss might need your help with this too.
It might sound boastful and go against your nature, but you have to let your boss know your accomplishments. Yes, it's your boss' job to know about your performance, but they won't necessarily understand how difficult it was. Anecdotes are a great way to make people remember you and get the word spread. So start creating the stories that will communicate your actions.
By helping your boss, you can help yourself up that corporate ladder.