Successful leaders utilize all their resources. We leverage our strengths, manage our weaknesses, and continue to develop our leadership savvy. Leaders also have institutional resources, colleagues and, of course, their teams of people. One resource we often overlook is our own manager. If you are lucky, like I am, you receive information, clear direction, support, and encouragement from your leader.
We can fall into a trap if we view our managers primarily as translators of information or conduits of organizational strategy and not as a part of our work teams. If we think of managers as members of our team then we can actively involve them as we work to accomplish our objectives. We can “manage up.”
Managing up requires us to rethink our communication strategy when working with our managers. Not only do we need to provide updates, work products, and information, as well as listen to what they have to say, we also want to engage our managers and get them to take action that will remove barriers or help move our projects forward. This is communication for action. Anne Warfield, CEO of Impressions Management Professionals and author of Outcome Thinking: Getting Results, identifies three key principles for communication that leads to outcomes. These principles work for all types of communication but I have found them particularly helpful when communicating and managing up to my manager or when presenting to senior leaders.
First, I need to clearly describe how I, or the project or topic, can add value. Our managers are busy and have their own priorities and projects. Starting with a value proposition resets the stage and clarifies the importance of the topic.
Second, focus on the desired outcome. Avoid process detail and seek agreement on how they can help. This sets the stage for identifying your manager’s role in getting to the desired outcome.
Third, think and speak positively from your manager’s perspective. You are asking them to take action, so define how the outcome is aligned with their priorities.
Together these three principles shift your communication from sharing information with your manager to managing up and communicating for active engagement in your work.