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The Art of Managing a Manager: A Comprehensive Guide

Master the art of managing a manager with this comprehensive guide. Unearth key challenges, actionable strategies, and essential skills. Boost your career today!

Trying to manage your career can feel like you're lost at sea without a map sometimes. 

Between managing your team and dealing with your peers, it's easy to get overwhelmed. 

However, we all know that by far one of the trickiest dances of all is figuring out how to manage your own manager or managers. It's a hard balancing act, and one that far too many people in the tech world overlook.

If you want your career to progress effectively while having a positive experience at work at the same time, this art form is essential.

Of course, it may sound strange to "manage your manager," but even experienced captains need the stars to steer by. 

Good management requires building an effective upward strategy with your boss. It's about creating harmony, keeping communication open, and fostering understanding - while keeping your team on track for success. 

Mastering the art of managing your manager isn't just a useful skill.

It's a secret ingredient for a thriving career alongside other managers.

Let's get into how you can do just this.

The Reality of Manager-to-Manager Relations


Source - Alt: Two female managers stand together with their arms crossed smiling at the camera

Let's start with seeing the big picture.

In our heads, a manager is like a chess master moving pieces across the board. 

In reality, managing your own manager is more of a team sport than a solo command. 

This relationship is all about collaborating, not controlling. 

The chances are you've worked with a bad manager before. Someone who micromanages everything you do doesn't understand what's going on, doesn't care for the people under them, and only cares about themselves and looking good.

While a lot of the responsibility for poor management does fall on the manager themselves, of course, it's important to remember that, like all relationships, this is a two-way street.

You need to work together to juggle projects, balance expectations, and create a productive environment.

Picture your company like a pyramid. 

The top seems to hold all the power, but it's actually the middle managers that carry the weight. You're the link between the high-level plans and on-the-ground realities. 

Your role is to climb the ladder without destabilizing things. This means respecting authority and policies while effectively communicating your team's needs to your boss.

Learning to manage your manager right can make work smoother. You'll execute projects more efficiently, improve communication, and boost your career progression. But it's not as easy as just moving pieces on a chessboard. 

You have to adapt to different work and leadership styles, align expectations, and know when honest feedback is needed. With some practice, though, you can master this crucial skill, and the rewards will be worth it. 

Think of how you manage managers like playing a chess game - the effort takes strategy, but the outcome enables you to win.

What are the Challenges in Managing Managers?


Source - Alt: A manager holds a team meeting in a modern tech company

Just like every rose has its thorns, learning to manage your manager has its prickly parts. Being aware of the common challenges can help you handle them better when they pop up. 

Here are some typical issues that can come up:

  • Miscommunication: You feel like you've clearly explained your team's needs, but your boss seems clueless. Different communication styles can make you feel like you're talking to a brick wall. Think of each interaction with your manager as laying out a trail of breadcrumbs to guide a project's success - every piece matters.
  • Lack of structure: Trying to align your manager's expectations with your team's work can be like playing whack-a-mole. When there's no clear structure, confusion spreads, and productivity drops. When managing managers, you keep everything together.
  • Performance problems: Balancing your team's work and your boss's demands is a tightrope walk. Lean too far either way, and things can fall apart quickly.
  • Workplace conflicts: Picture your team and manager at opposite ends of a tug-of-war rope - yikes. Professional disputes create tension that throws off workplace harmony.
  • Demotivation: Ever suggest something to your boss only to have it dismissed, leaving your team feeling devalued? Demotivation is a serious morale and productivity killer.

And the stats back this up.

McKinsey found that relationships with managers are the top factor in employee job satisfaction, heralding the saying that there are no bad jobs, only bad management.

One study found that managers account for 70% of satisfaction variance.

Bringing this all together, these issues are intimidating, no question. When you start introducing concepts like middle managers, working with first time managers, and so on.

But every storm cloud has a silver lining. Solving any puzzle takes trial and error, but once you find the right fit, you'll see the bigger picture. Recognizing potential problems and managing up is key to overcoming them. It helps you navigate this maze to build a positive, efficient work environment.

Practical Techniques in Effectively Managing a Manager

While managing your manager can seem intimidating, you have more tools than you think. With the right strategies, you can overcome the challenges and smooth out the bumps. Let's explore some time-tested techniques:

Build Trust Over Time

Trust doesn't happen overnight - it's a slow build. 

You earn it by consistently meeting (or beating!) expectations and stepping up when times get tough. Say your boss gives you a tight deadline for a big project. Instead of panicking, rally your team to deliver quality work on time. 

It's all about bringing the team together, even when you have new managers or you're managing individual contributors within your leadership team.

Rinse and repeat, and you'll build trust bit by bit until it's set like concrete.

Communicate Effectively

Think of your manager like a radio tuning into your frequency. Crossed signals and static will distort your message. Tailor your communication style to your boss's preferences - whether that's direct and concise, nuanced, over email, or in long discussions. 

For example, a marketing manager struggling to explain a failed campaign to leadership would benefit from visual graphs over detailed direct reports to get their point across if that's their boss's preferred style.

Master Negotiation

Managing your manager often resembles a delicate dance of negotiation. You need to align your team's needs with the expectations of your senior managers. Say your product manager pushes for an unrealistic launch timeline despite your realistic assessment. 

Tactful negotiation presenting feasible alternatives can bring expectations into harmony without compromising deliverables.

Get Aligned

Nothing spells trouble like mismatched expectations - it's like pouring marinara sauce on a strawberry sundae. 

Avoid chaos by clearly defining expectations upfront. If your manager expects a software rollout by year-end, but your team says Q2 is realistic, that misalignment can cause tension. Getting on the same page early keeps the work environment harmonious.

Using these techniques not only helps you manage up effectively but also enables a healthier work-life balance and a more positive work environment. 

Like a trusty travel guide in a foreign city, these tools provide direction through the maze of management, turning roadblocks into scenic overlooks.

Essential Skills for Effective Upward Management


Source - Alt: A Scrabble board displaying the world team, lead, succeed

So, with all this in mind, you should have a bit of a clearer idea as to how and why you should manage your manager - the art of managing upwards. That said, there are some skills needed to truly thrive in this area of the career world. 

Think of these as your tools for mastering the art, like you would use a paintbrush on a canvas or as your key tools for sculpting a productive relationship with your boss. The tips for managing managers that you need to know.

Let's break it down.

Expert Negotiation

Negotiation is the cornerstone of managing your manager, like adding precisely the right amount of spice to a dish. You need to advocate for your team while respecting your boss's perspective. 

To win, you need to find the middle ground. Of course, a complete 50-50 split is not always possible, but that's what you aim to get as close as you can to, ensuring everyone has their say, feels heard, and respected.

This delicate dance requires listening closely, finding common ground, and presenting win-win solutions. This may require one-on-one meetings or group sessions, showcasing you’re listening and having well-rounded discussions where everyone's respected.

Seasoned negotiators will also build trust by upholding commitments. You need to read situations accurately to know when to flex and when to stand firm. Hone this pivotal skill through study and practice. 

Strategic Thinking

Keep focused on the big picture using strategic thinking as your guide - arguably the core of effectively managing managers.

Far too many people get lost in trivial details and small, usually insignificant points and fail to see things on a larger, more important scale.

The best thing to do here is consider company objectives, how your own teams fit in, and where mutual gains exist. Strategic managers align priorities across departments and balance the short and long term. 

They see the forest for the trees to provide leadership through ambiguity. 

Diplomatic Influencing

Combine logic and empathy to influence decisions and perspectives. Like donning a finely tailored suit, diplomacy earns you respect and gets you heard. This also helps you build a long-lasting legacy of a reputation, both in your company or organization or the industry itself.

Take time to know the motivations of various players. Time your approach thoughtfully, and frame arguments convincingly without applying pressure. Influencers master the art of advocacy through relationship-building, savvy communication, and equanimity.

Assertive Leadership

Assertiveness brings out the flavor in management. 

Speak up directly while maintaining composure and professionalism. Be confident sharing your informed perspective without steamrolling others. Choose your battles wisely, yet stick to your guns when it counts. 

However, assertion does not mean aggression. It simply means advocating clearly and standing firm on vital issues. Add the right dose of assertion to authentically represent your team's needs.

By honing these core skills, you can navigate management's choppy waters masterfully. Each one strengthens your ability to partner effectively with leadership. 

Together, they empower you to calm storms, avoid pitfalls, and keep your crew on course. 

Master these, and you'll steer any team to success.

Conclusion: Mastery in the Art of Managing Managers

And there we have it - mastering the art of managing the manager using some of the management best practices you need to know.

As you can see, effectively managing up is like conducting a masterful ensemble – you set the tempo, guide the melody, and bring out the best in every player. Honing this multifaceted skill boosts your leadership and cultivates workplace harmony.

In the grand symphony of business, your relationship with your manager is a pivotal theme, not just a single note. Learning to compose this theme skillfully is instrumental to your growth and your team's success.

Oh, and if you need guidance along the way, MentorCruise offers personalized mentoring programs tailored to your professional development. Our mentors can help you strengthen these skills, tackle challenges, and align your career with your goals.

Take the first step toward masterful management – join MentorCruise today! Conduct your best performance yet by signing up now.

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