Don't believe the hype: Managing-up doesn't work. Do this instead

Updated: Nov 26, 2019

We’ve all heard some variation of the following statements throughout our careers. I actually heard the first during my short tenure at a consulting firm. It took all that I had not to laugh out loud when my "peer-level buddy" (yes, that is the unofficial name for it) told me this: 

“Your primary job is to make your boss look good.”

“Your primary job is to make your boss' job easier." 

Seeing that "advice" typed out really highlights the ridiculousness of the whole managing-up notion. Anyone ever seen that on a job description? Do we get paid more for adding “managing” to our list of responsibilities? Can I put that on my resume:

“Successfully drove managing-up initiatives, ensuring my boss had an easy job, and looked really good doing it”.

If managing-up really worked for professionals we probably wouldn’t have such dismal numbers of burned-out and disengaged employees. Yet, productivity among American workers is at an all-time high. What an interesting phenomenon. So, managing-up appears to work after all - for the manager and organization that is. Which sounds like a raw deal for employees. I mean, isn’t the entire point of leadership to drive the success of the organization through the employees that execute the actual work? A leader’s primary purpose is to ensure a supportive working environment to maximize employee productivity and engagement, right? In fact, advocating for employees has shown to have a positive influence on both engagement and performance.

So why all this focus in the business community on employees managing-up versus encouraging more managers to support and advocate for their employees? A post for another time I suppose...

But alas professionals, rejoice! There is something you can do, something even better for your career than “managing-up” - it’s called Manage Yourself...ok, that isn't a very catchy title but stick with me here:


Create clarity around your skills and expertise, and routinely evaluate and communicate the marketability of those skills to your entire professional network - not just with those you work with right now. Track your accomplishments and be prepared to share those successes with anyone and everyone who will listen. 


Identify how you create the most organizational value and do that - early and often. Accept and learn to exploit, the fact that long-term loyalty and real job security are a thing of the past. The name of the game is “what have you done for me lately?” Focus on maximizing your access to work experiences most likely to drive your career growth


Create balance between organizational objectives and your career goals. We’ve all been there, having become so entrenched in high-visibility projects and work, that before we know it we’ve become very good at meeting and exceeding company expectations. What we haven’t done very well is looked up from our computer long enough to evaluate whether the work we’re doing is actually still serving our individual professional needs. 

Ultimately we can choose to focus on making our bosses look good and making their jobs easier, or we can invest in our careers based on what will serve us long term. Let’s face it: bosses change, jobs change, employers change. The thing that doesn't change is the need to propel our own careers forward, because it looks like no one else is going to do it.

After all, they’re all too busy managing-up.

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