Has Managing UP Become a Lost Art?

Each week our team engages dozens of active living entities and we’ve discovered an important skill set that seems to be lacking in middle management: The art of managing up.

Internal strife in workplaces is frequently caused when no one wants to take responsibility. It’s human nature to want to blame someone else for our problems, and the worst type of this thinking is when employees blame “the boss”. In this scenario, you’ll hear things like: “He/she is a terrible communicator” or “He/she doesn’t understand what it’s like here on the front line”.

While it’s easy to blame a supervisor, we suggest it’s time to have a look around. See if there needs to be some training on how to “manage the manager” in your company.

Put simply: Managing up means that you perform your tasks in a way that makes your supervisor’s job easier. Adapting to his/her behavior and matching that is a great way to start. I remember the words of one of my first managers as I was starting work: “Kid, your job is to make me look good”.

And while it’s true that an employee’s job is to make their colleagues look good, as it is on any team effort, managing up does not mean sucking up.

What it does mean is:


holding up a large megaphone against a color background
The synergy between upper management and middle management begins with communication and understanding of what your manager is really trying to accomplish and how you can best help. This step is establishing a “Mutually Effective Relationship” or MER for short.

A MER occurs when both people involved in the relationship take proactive interest in each other’s role. Both must be able to approach the connection with openness and let themselves be vulnerable. Being approachable is as important as being able to approach others. In our experience, this is best practiced by explaining to team members how to best communicate—an important first step in developing trust and effective communication pathways that lead to effective professional relationships.


magnifying glass held over a question mark

Being proactive is the second step in successfully navigating “managing the manager”. The middle manager should understand their manager and how they go about solving problems. Conversely, they should be willing to complement the strengths of their manager and “fill in the holes” so-to-speak to create the synergy needed to form a strong team. Defining goals and consistently referring back to the goals/objectives put forth through individual meetings will demonstrate the middle manager is dependable and decisive—two key traits managers look for in their employees.


icons of a team surrounding their leader
Protecting the manager from being blindsided is an important part of building trust. At times an employee will have to make controversial decisions, and these types of decisions can often be devastating to a healthy culture. Having the wherewithal to voice an opinion behind closed doors and still support whatever is determined from that meeting (even if it is not your opinion) builds confidence and strengthens a “united front”.


colored paper airplane rising above plain ones
Convert complaints into suggestions. Complaints can be taken as disappointment with regards to how your manager is doing the job. Making suggestions offers the two of you opportunities to address the issue and to improve together. The issue is being presented in a positive “gains” way instead of a negative “must be fixed” view. Middle managers should also offer various solutions to problems. But make sure that you put forth your opinion as to which solution is the best, and why. This shows your supervisor that you have thought through the problem. If you don’t feel that your supervisor’s decision is a good one, disagree in a respectful way and offer other ways to look at the problem.


a sharpened pencil pushed higher than unsharpened ones
Great managers uncover what is unique about each of their subordinates, but there will be times where talent and skill sets go untapped. By pointing out what you bring to the table and how they complement your boss and his/her skill sets, you’ll find new opportunities to “manage up” while making the team better.

Don’t hesitate to respectfully point out experience and skill sets the manager may have overlooked, particularly if it will dramatically impact the issue at hand in a positive way. Sharing your skill sets with your manager improves their productivity while also showing your dedication to helping others develop their skills and grow in their careers.

To learn more about managing or improving your fitness facility, please contact Bobby Verdun and Richard Synnott at www.activeentities.com/contact.