Some call it playing politics and others call them power games. Organisational behaviour and workplace specialists however coined the term ‘managing up’ to refer to ensuring that you put effort into building a relationship that is mutually productive with your boss.
But is managing up and sucking up the same thing, and is it even important? Or is hard work enough for success?
The modern workplace is a combination of many nuances. Say you have a new boss, or one with whom you do not always see eye to eye and who lets his ego get in the way of understanding the value you bring to the table.
Or your boss is prone to letting his indecision get the better of him/her, only making decisions at the last minute and letting you pick up the pieces.
If any of these or a million other situations describe your work life, will you choose to let fate take its course while you ‘keep your head down and work hard’?
What are the chances that if you want to be promoted or involved in exciting projects you can go over your bosses’ head and prosper without his or her input?
Even if you apply to be moved to a different department, chances are that your boss will be the first person who is consulted before you are considered for the role.
The bottom line is, workplaces are political ecosystems when you strip them down to their bare essentials and if ‘sucking up’ feels sycophantic and undesirable to you, there are still ways of ensuring the person you report to has your back.
And the only way to ensure that this happens is by understanding how to add value to him or her.
The trust factor
Why would your boss pick one member of the team over another when it comes to awarding assignments, especially if these assignments have an element of visibility? It comes down to whether they trust you to deliver stellar work, and make them look good (not embarrass them).
Building trust comes from having delivered on projects and showing your leadership skills.
But what if you have been doing all this but cannot seem to land the plum assignments? It could be that you aren’t creating awareness of the projects you’re playing a key role in. Which brings us to the next skill…
Toot your own horn
Are you one of those people who is uncomfortable about showcasing their successes? Being modest about your achievements will not paint you in the desired light. But neither will being obnoxious.
If you successfully delivered a project on time and budget, straddle the line between showcasing your success, sharing the praise with your team and showing appreciation for your boss.
Phrase your statement in this way ‘I am glad to announce the successful delivery of the project in time and on budget.
I could not have done it without the input of my team and your support, and I grew a lot as a leader during the past five months, effectively handling x, y and z challenges and learning more effective ways of being more effective as an organisation’.
Ensure you reiterate these successes at the periodic reviews – which is a great place to show off your work without being seen as self-serving.
Professional and work-related goals
Every boss or supervisor has over-arching goals; those that their superiors have asked them to prioritise.
And for most bosses, they are unlikely to tell you what those goals are so you will need to be alert to ongoing conversations to tease them out.
If your boss asks you to take on a task that you don’t think makes sense, it is likely that s/he is trying to hit a higher goal – be patient, ask questions and show that you are on board. If you become the employee that supports these goals, you will become even more valued and a trusted member of your boss’s inner circle.
Don’t make assumptions. If something in your department has the potential of causing a problem, do not assume that the boss knows. Whether it was a lapse, mistake or unforeseen circumstance, ensure you brief him/her with a plan of how you are going to mitigate the effects.
There’s nothing as terrifying as being the bearer of bad news but this is one more way of ensuring you have your superior’s back.
Or just because your former boss preferred once a week updates on email, don’t assume that that will be OK for the current one. Be clear on how often updates or reports are expected and in what format.
And any time you are unclear, ask for clarification as it will save time and deter frustration.