Managing your boss is a key skill for any leader. You need to know what they like and what they don’t. You need to understand how they like to work, as well as what their goals are.
Then you need to do your best to satisfy those requirements, whilst leading your team effectively at the same time. It’s a tricky balancing act, because focusing on one too much can damage the other. The short answer to the question “Should you focus on managing your boss or your team?” is of course, that you need to be able to do both effectively at the same time.
Leaders Need to Balance Managing Up and Down
A senior HR person once told me that “Your manager and colleagues come first, and your teams are second”. I strongly disagree with this statement. When I heard it I was disappointed, because I feel that this is how bad cultures are born.
When you spend all your time concentrating on your boss and pleasing them, you run a real risk of creating a dictatorship where you lose sight of the people doing the actual work on the ground.
This has the potential to create disengaged and demotivated teams. These teams start to refer to themselves as “mushrooms” because they are “kept in the dark and fed manure“. To stop this happening, I believe you need to work hard to balance the needs of your teams with the needs of your manager.
Managing your manager is often termed “Managing Up”. You know you’ve succeeded in this when you can keep your manager happy while also being able to work the way you want with your team.
To succeed, you need to keep both your own boss and your team satisfied. To do this, you need to be constantly keeping both relationships (up and down) in a state of equilibrium.
Managing Up Too Much Can Hurt Your Reputation & Team Performance
I’ve seen many leaders focus so much on managing their boss, that they have very little time to concentrate on how their teams are doing. Generally when people focus too much on managing upwards, it’s for one of two reasons. Either the leader wants to:
- “Look good” to their boss, so they spend extra effort to shape their manager’s perception; or
- Satisfy a boss who is making their life difficult. They are spending extra effort to get their manager “off their back”.
When leaders focus their attention on managing their boss, there are several potential issues that arise.
The obvious problem is that these leaders focus less on their own teams, because they are putting so much time towards pleasing their manager. Their reputation can also take a hit, because their team may perceive them as “sucking up” to their boss at the expense of focusing on the team.
These leaders may also just do what their boss says without pushing back, because they are aiming to please. Unfortunately, this can also lead to poor results if the directions given actually cause other team problems.
These factors combined can result in worse team performance and motivation. And remember, your team are the people who actually do the work. Usually, poor team performance only results in more scrutiny for the manager in the long run.
Poorly Managing Your Boss Can Cause Them to Lose Trust
The opposite issue occurs when leaders focus mainly on their own team and not enough on their own manager. While it is admirable to be supportive of your team, it’s dangerous to take your eye off your boss for too long.
When you spend too much time focusing on your own team instead of pleasing your manager, there is a risk that your manager will lose trust and confidence, because they might not be sure what you’re doing.
Spending time updating your boss with your future plans and getting their feedback is often time well spent, because you need to make sure you are aligned with what you’re trying to achieve.
After all, if you lose their trust, you can find yourself in a situation where you’re being micromanaged.
The reality is, not paying enough attention to your own manager is a recipe for disaster, because they may start to assert their authority and spend all their time managing you if they think you’ve “gone rogue”.
How to Balance Managing Your Boss, With Managing Your Team
To start effectively managing your boss, you need to make sure you are both aligned. As a starting point, it’s good for you to understand:
- What your manager’s goals are
- How your manager likes to be kept informed of progress; and
- The degree to which they want to be consulted when you want to make changes in your team.
That’s the “up” part. When it comes to managing your team, you should:
- Work with your team to decide how best you can meet your manager’s goals
- Meet with team members frequently to understand issues and challenges in the team
- Work to solve your team issues, even if it means having a tough conversation with your boss, who may not agree with your assessment of the situation; and
- Work with your manager and negotiate a compromise if the plans you have for your team aren’t completely aligned with theirs.
Your manager shouldn’t come first, and nor should your team. You need to keep the needs of both parties satisfied as best you can.
After all, if you lose focus on your team, you’ll likely see a drop in performance as you aren’t able to to provide the support or direction they need.
This will only cause you problems with your boss in the long run.
Need some help managing your boss? If you struggle to manage up and push back on unreasonable demands, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Managing Upwards eBook, for tools and techniques to build confidence and help you say “No”. You and your team deserve better… get the eBook today.
What do you think? Is managing your boss or your team more important? Leave a comment and let us know below!