Managing your manager
Many readers of my weekly articles are not the numero uno in the business they work in. That is, they have someone above them they report to; often the owner or owners of the business.
That presents some potential challenges when you find yourself having to ‘manage up’. I’m thinking specifically here of any second generation CEOs, or practice managers who now find themselves reporting to the founder/s of the business.
I learnt a valuable lesson in this area many years ago, in my Financial Planning business back in Sydney, when we hired our first Practice Manager. His name was Nick, and he was a client of mine, a great guy and a retired military officer.
Somewhat embarrassingly, my business partner and I grilled Nick on whether he would be a command-and-control style manager, based on our limited and stereotypical views on the military.
Nick patiently explained that, as an officer, it wasn’t quite as simple as giving orders and everyone doing what you say.
When asked how he would function reporting to the ultimate owner of the business, my business partner and the majority shareholder, he explained the concept of ‘managing up’.
5 simple steps to managing up
Basically everyone in the military, and almost all other industries, has people they are in charge of and people above them that they report into. ‘Managing up’ refers to the concept of managing those people above you.
Here are some ideas for working effectively with those you report to in a Financial Planning business:
1. Let them know what you’ve done for them lately
When I did my ski instructor course in Saas Fee a few years ago, one of our assessors was the former CEO of the Ski Club of Great Britain. As we ascended on a chair lift I asked him what that was like. There were two points I remember vividly.
Firstly, he said ski instructors were all pretty sure they knew the best way to teach people how to ski. So trying to lead an organisation of self-employed instructors, and getting them to teach a standard curriculum, was like herding cats.
Sounds a lot like managing Financial Advisers, don’t you think?
Secondly, he said the board at Ski Club of Great Britain consisted of some serious bigwigs who weren’t overly interested in what was going on day to day. They certainly weren’t going to give loads of praise for doing your job.
As a result, he had to compile a list of his achievements and make sure the board knew about them. This kept the board informed, but was also important for himself. It helped provide the self-praise that wouldn’t be coming from above.
The learning from this second point is that, as part of your role as a leader or manager in your organisation, there will always be someone you need to keep informed about progress.
Let me be clear: if you report to the founder/s they should be giving you feedback, noticing your work and giving you praise for the good things you’re doing. However, it’s also true they’ll be preoccupied with their own issues, and may not always be brilliant in this area.
Don’t be afraid to be your own bearer of good news on a regular basis.
For example, “We said we’d do X and we’ve done X. This has yielded Y benefits.”
2. Say it over and over
Whatever your message, you need to say it all the time, repeatedly, forever.
This goes for your interactions with all staff, including those below you as well as above.
It’s not enough to say it once, or once a month. Whatever your core message is, it needs to be on repeat.
Values, direction, the mission; whatever it is, say it over and over again. Your team will start to get it only after about two years of constant repetition. Same goes for your boss. So start telling them asap.
3. Is it fear/concern talking?
When you are talking with those you report to, they may want to provide you with a lot of input. Much of this input is actually concern about an issue, and sometimes it’s outright fear.
You may not be aware of the business owner’s background and the difficult experiences they’ve been through to get to where they are now. This doesn’t excuse any poor behaviour on their part, but sometimes fear can make a business owner do some crazy shit, and it may be nothing to do with you.
Clearly, there’s no need to point out to your boss that you think their crazy behaviour is driven by fear or past life/business trauma; keep that to yourself. But it is ok to keep it in mind when they speak to you or disagree with you. It’s not personal.
4. Ask “What have you heard?”
You might think you’re done, after you explain a situation or decision, and your boss has asked his/her clarification questions or challenged you seven different ways. To make sure they have taken it in you need to ask them; “What have you heard?” Let them explain in their own words what they’ve heard you say.
Be prepared for the fact that sometimes they haven’t heard what you said, but what they think you meant.
This can be really frustrating, but you can now explain it again and hopefully get to a place where they’ve taken in your message.
5. Trust yourself
In all likelihood you make great decisions. If everything you’ve done so far in your role is bang on, then if you have to dig in occasionally after exhausting this arsenal of managing-up techniques, then so be it.
Dig in and back yourself. No one wants to work with someone who rolls over all the time.
Pick your moments, of course, and don’t over-use this one, but know it’s in your managing up tool kit.
Everyone’s a winner
Let’s be honest, how you decide to manage up could vary dramatically from firm to firm and day to day. It depends on your position, your relationship with those above you, and the current state of the business. In your role you need to be tuning in to the mood and what’s required to help the business succeed.
Think carefully about the strategies you use, and remember this is not a zero sum game; the ultimate goal is for everyone to win.
Let me know how you go.
This great article, from leadership coach Lea McLeod, on the managing up concept also shares some great ideas for people in all roles reporting to someone above.