Managing Up Starts at the Top

Managing Upby Lynn Taylor
Founder and CEO, Lynn Taylor Consulting

Excellent people are at the heart of every organization. Unfortunately, when faced with negative and ineffective bosses, these employees often find themselves looking for the nearest exit sign.

However, there is a proactive step that you can take to help boost morale and retain top talent. As a leader, you are most influential in encouraging your employees to “manage up.” It creates a win-win-win: for the employee, boss, and the company.  It’s a practice that is most often associated with your employees being proactive problem solvers with their bosses, using strong people skills, and indirectly modeling positive behaviors.

Managing up is not an approach most employees automatically consider when dealing with their boss’s challenging behavior.  So it’s incumbent upon you to first need to create an environment where managing up is embraced, not just encouraged

Make it clear to your managers that you expect them to be open to employee initiatives and solutions. You can help educate your employees directly, but you should also discuss with Human Resources ways in which such programs can be communicated.  For example, when employees face challenges, confusion or frustration from above, the first step in managing up is to understand the root cause and triggers, before they escalate.

Employees will manage up most effectively when they can anticipate their boss’s needs. Many negative behaviors stem from feeling out of control - and employees can address this by striving to help their boss feel as if her needs are being addressed, promptly and efficiently.  Employees can:

  • Evaluate upcoming deadlines and offer to make a priority list of projects that can be moved ahead; suggesting resources and timelines. 
  • Step in and offer support, sympathy, feedback and yes, even praise when warranted.
  • Reviewing open projects and tasks regularly, providing reassurance that everything is under control.
  • Remain aware of projects outside their own scope that are of higher priority to their bosses so they know when to push and when to retreat.
  • Work with other team members where possible to lighten the boss’s load.

The next step is to establish an open communication channel between manager and employee. Your role as leader should include encouraging regular meetings between managers and their employees and sharing these guidelines for communication:

  • Employees should attempt to keep communication as positive as possible, but remain honest about problems they’re facing.
  • Conversations should be brief, and solution-oriented.
  • Set up weekly or bi-weekly meetings to provide progress updates and devise new goals together.
  • Study the manager’s schedule and behavioral patterns in order to approach him at the most opportune time. 
  • Communicate early when things change with plenty of advance notice and reassurance that all of her work will be completed.
  • Positive feedback and gratitude towards a manager’s actions will reinforce good behavior.

Naturally, employees and managers should engage in regular communications, even when no major problems exist. It provides a platform for positive collaboration, as well as a safety net for when problems do arise.

The final step in managing up is to encourage employees to stay positive and supportive. Employees should remember to:

  • Remain calm when things go wrong and laugh at your own mistakes.
  • Reinforce the good work that’s been accomplished, especially when a manager has made a poor decision
  • Keep conversation friendly and light, including incorporating humor into their communication
  • Avoid pointing fingers or picking at someone’s faults
  • Strive to be someone with whom your boss and colleagues would like to interact.

In fact, one of the acronyms I like to use is C.A.L.M.: Communicate, Anticipate, Laugh and Manage.  Everyone appreciates a relaxed atmosphere, and we all know that humor IS contagious.


By incorporating these managing up techniques, your entire team will feel more empowered and in control as problems arise. With gentle guidance from you, your managers can evaluate their leadership style and embark on a path to improve their approach, and your employees can help them banish bad behavior by deftly modeling better ways to “enact and react” in the office.

Managing up lowers stress and friction - and increases collaboration, productivity, and profitability.  And it can best be initiated…from the top down!




More Resources for Managers

Be sure to visit our sister site, Tame Your TOT, for a lighthearted but practical look at improving your work life. For more manager resources, click here.