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The Art of Managing Your Boss

| December 8, 2009

by Jim Bruce

Having heard a number of people talk about “leading-up, I decided to do a Google search on the words.   This led to far more references than I had time to explore.  However, I found one — “Leading Up”  The Art of Managing Your Boss” a review of Michael Useem’s 2001 book, “Leading Up:  How To Lead Your Boss So You Both Win” — that is very helpful.  This article is today’s Tuesday Reading.

Useem says, “Leading up is the act of working with people above you … to help them and you get a better job done.”  He also notes “Organizations need more direction from below to think strategically, communicate persuasively, and act decisively.”  Leaders have always led up while focusing on their primary role of leading down.  But, today leading up is even more important as organizations decentralize and spans of control increase.  To accomplish their goals both managers and leaders must exert greater influence up.  

In the piece Useem notes differences between leading up (and down) and managing up (and down) pointing out that “leading up is an ‘affirmative calling’ to help a boss accomplish what everyone and the organization wants or needs accomplished.  The premise is that superiors need all the leadership assistance they can get.”

Examples of leading up include:

– providing a strategic insight or plan that introduces your organization into a new business area — think wireless a decade ago, and virtualization now.

– coaching your boss to help her address an issue more effectively.

– stepping up and doing what is necessary without direction — think about how individuals step up in crisis situations like the Iowa flood.

– defending, explaining, pushing hard for correct solutions, even in the face of strong opposition.

And, you can probably add to this list thinking about opportunities that you have right now as well as ones you failed to act on in the past.

Leading up is not without risk.  Wise superiors and their organizations create a culture where upward feedback and action is wanted and valued.  But, some less wise superiors are threatened by any upward leadership and won’t tolerate even the most well meant intentions.

So, explore your terrain.  And, exercise your skills to help those above you to get a better job done.


Have a great week.  .  .  .     jim