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5 Tips For Managing Up At Work

“How do I coach my boss when they seem to be lacking some skills that I'm good at?” A brave participant asked this question in a leadership workshop I led last week, but this wasn't the first time I've received this question. And if I'm being honest, I certainly had this thought myself when I worked for some leaders. I've had clients come to coaching sessions looking for help in working with a leader who:

  • Communicates too much (micromanaging)

  • Communicates not enough

  • Does't give feedback

  • Ignores big issues (or people)

  • Over inflates small issues

  • Runs meetings poorly

  • …or is simply just not the leader they wouldn't have chosen.

A key mindset shift we all must learn as we advance in our career is this: You won't always have the leader you want, but many times you're given the leader you need. In my own experience, I learned what not to do from some of my leaders from watching them and experiencing their behaviors. Some of the leaders I struggled with the most forced me to reckon with my own shortcomings, like withholding my wants and needs, under communicating my business plans, and honing my desire to act first and ask for permission later ;) We frequently learn as much from the leaders we struggle to connect with as we do from the ones we like the most. And to answer the question above, how do I coach my boss? The answer is, only if they've asked for your help or coaching (which many times, they won't). In this case, it's important to manage up well and focus on what is yours to own - like using your unique skills and talents to fill the gap! No matter what type of leader you have, it's important to ask: What is this person/situation teaching me? What's in my control and where do I have agency to make a positive impact?


Consider a work relationship that frustrates you or reflect on a previous relationship where you felt a lack of connection between you and your leader: 1. Clarity: Ambiguity creates animosity so success loves clarity here:

  • Tell your leader:

    • How you prefer feedback.

    • What your career goals are.

    • How often you prefer communication and how.

    • Your pet peeves and blind spots.

  • Ask your leader:

    • How they prefer feedback

    • What success looks like in their eyes

    • How often they desire communication from you and how.

    • Their pet peeves and what you can avoid.

2. Compassion: Good news - we're all imperfect!

  • A great question Brene Brown reminds us to ask is this: How would you treat someone if you truly believed they were doing the best they could with the resources they've been given?

  • Remember that when you communicate what you desire to your leader, it gives them permission to do the same.

3. Curiosity: What am I learning from this?

  • What am I learning about myself and my own work habits?

  • What new approach do I need to try?

  • What's in my control and what action steps need to be taken?

At the end of the day it's important to remember that if your leader was perfect, it wouldn't give YOU the opportunity to use your unique skills and talents to fill the gap.

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