Stanley Bing's Top 10 Strategies for Managing Up

Last Updated Jan 12, 2010 6:14 PM EST

Dear Stanley,
I work for the largest bank in the world, and like all things it has its ups and downs. What strategies can I use to effectively "manage up"? I am hoping to differentiate myself from the pact, and my hard work seems to go unnoticed.
Signed,
Ambitious

Dear Ambitious,

Well, you can start by learning to spell. I don't mean to be unkind or rude, but there you have it. You won't differentiate yourself from the "pact," my friend, unless you are negotiating an international agreement of some sort. You will, however, differentiate yourself from the pack if you use language right and spell things correctly. Okay, there may be parts of the business world where spelling and grammar don't count, and perhaps banking is one of them. But I don't think so. I can't tell you how many times, in spite of all my best intentions, I develop a slightly more negative opinion about somebody because they write me an e-mail that says, "Stan, your right." I also have no particular affection for the dreaded "Him and me are going to call you about that." What can I tell you? I'm a grammar and spelling police officer. I'm also a boss. If you want to manage me, you have to speak my language. Or any language. That's a good beginning.

Speaking my language doesn't only extend to matters verbal and electronic. It's much more comprehensive than that. You can also start looking at the way I dress, the way my life rhythms express themselves, what makes me mad, happy, sad, aggressive, resentful, nervous, crazy; when I'm likely to want a big, relaxed lunch and when I'm more prone to want to grab a sandwich with my hard-working colleagues. I'm not saying that you manage me by doing what I do and following slavishly to my drumbeat. I'm saying that knowing me is the alpha and the omega of upward management.

It's like any instrument. You must learn the fundamentals first, and then go on to mastery. The good news is contained in one fact that all too few people know: Bosses need and want to be managed. They require daily care, feeding, and control from a wide variety of subordinates and support people. To begin with, every successful manager is him- or herself managed by his or her assistant. And that's only the beginning. In meetings, phone calls, e-mails and meals, the boss is adroitly guided by any number of people in positions of trust. Those who drift away from that guidance very often end up on the slag heap.

So do your boss a favor. Execute your plan and start implementing the old Hegelian master-servant relationship. You know what that is, right? The unreadable German philosopher Hegel wrote about it. He said that in any such relationship, the supposedly less powerful servant has significant power over the master. No point of view could be more useful in a business environment, particularly as bosses get more powerful. By the time they reach the apex of effectiveness, the big bosses are incapable of making a phone call without assistance. And shine their own shoes? Forget about it!

Start small and do your exercises. Begin here:

1. Talk to the boss every day you can. Say hello. Don't wear him or her out. Just begin to establish the idea that you are a human being, not just a function, and probably a pretty good person, too. Look him in the eye when you do so.
2. Notice when he or she comes in to the office. Be there when she gets here. Don't be a pest. Be a presence.
3. Wander by his or her office now and then. If the boss doesn't seem to mind it? Sit and have a cup of coffee. Bossing is lonely. Be a friend.
4. Look for opportunities to make your manager's life easier. I can't tell you what that is, but there usually are such chances. Seize them when they come.
5. Never present a problem without also bringing along a couple of solutions. You are there to solve things, not make the boss do so.
6. Tell the boss the whole truth. If you have information that might interest the boss, bring it to him even if it might be slightly upsetting to him.
7. Don't whine. If he or she treats you mean now and then, just suck it up. Don't be all hurt and tender. There's no crying in baseball.
8. Step up to the plate. If there's anything going on that requires a volunteer, do so.
9. Show your appreciation. Remember that there is no boss in the world that does not appreciate professional, moderate, responsible, dignified sucking up. I'm not talking about lathering up his or her helmet all the time. I'm talking about conveying respect and admiration when he or she requires it. Anybody that tells you that sucking up -- done properly and with restraint -- is wrong or icky is simply advising you to disarm one of the most powerful weapons in your arsenal.
10. Share glory, but not blame. When there is praise due for something well done, let your boss have the credit, even if you deserve it. If there is blame, accept it, even if HE deserves it. There is only one person who you have to please here, and it's not Mr. Carruthers on the 56th Floor. It's Bob, your boss, who works down the hall. And HE knows who deserves the credit and the blame.

That's just a start. Now get started.

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