Managing Upwards: Keep Your Friends Close and Your Boss Closer

Managing upwards is an essential skill for your career … and your sanity.  It’s a secret I learned very late in my career.

Turns out your manager comes in handy sometimes. Who knew? They are your advocate, representing you throughout the business. They support you when there’s a problem and let’s not forget, they also sign off on your bonus.
[perfectpullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”#ED6234″ class=”” size=””]The easier you make life for your boss, the easier they make life for you.[/perfectpullquote]
The more you try to understand and support them the more they’ll stay out of your way and let you get on with your job. Ask yourself:
  • Did they start at the bottom and work their way up?
  • Did they start the business or have some financial ties (maybe they’re a part owner)
  • Are they new to the company
  • Were they brought in to tackle a particular problem or bring about some change (e.g. maybe they need to slash costs)
  • What are their targets?  How are they measured at the end of the year?
  • How can you help them?
  • How can they help you?
So they may not be perfect. Who is? We all have challenges with our managers from time to time., which is why we need to become skilled at managing upwards.
Here’s 5 different manager types with tips on managing upwards to get them on your side (I’ve also sprinkled some inspirational quotes as a reminder why we need great leaders).


The Bee


This type of manager arrives early, leaves late and all they ever talk about is work.  They may have a life outside the office but you wouldn’t know it.  Workaholic bosses often expect the same from their team. and have very little sympathy for your arguments about why you can’t stay late or work the weekend.  They may micro-manage until you earn their trust. Make it a priority to establish your credibility.


  • Ensure you have specific targets and deadlines
  • Document your achievements. 
  • Make sure you have a regular face time manager to update them on your progress so they know you’re on top of things.
  • Keep them informed on issues. 
  • Avoid clogging their inbox with carbon copies. Instead, forward only the relevant email in the chain with a short introduction on why you’ve sent it to them.
  • Make an effort to be punctual.  Don’t be the first to leave either. 
  • Put in the extra time when required but don’t be a pushover.  If you’ve got to leave on time, then leave on time.


A good leader takes a little more than his share of the blame, a little less than his share of the credit.Arnold H. Glasow

The Hermit Crab


This kind of manager keeps to themselves. They do what’s expected, will help when asked and race out the door come quitting time.  You don’t know a thing about them and getting them to open up is like pulling teeth.  They keep their distance and like it that way. They’d keep the door closed if people had offices anymore. Of course, if something goes wrong they’re all over you like white on rice.
  • Respect boundaries and give them the space they crave.
  • Stick to work-related conversations.
  • Ask colleagues for help.  Only reach out to your manager when you need to.
  • Keep updates brief and to the point.  Use email to keep them in the loop.
  • Schedule catch-ups – avoid spontaneous phone calls and meetings
  • When you forward emails, update the subject line to let them know what’s required.  For example, insert FYI or ACTION


Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way.General George Patton

The Shark


This manager always has an eye on the prize. They’re more interested in office politics and climbing the career ladder than anything you’ve got going on. The good news is they usually have great networks. They can be a real asset when it comes to removing bottlenecks and getting stuff done.  The bad news is they’re always looking out for number one.

Watch out if you see a bus.


  • They’d prefer you got on with it, so show initiative and volunteer for projects. 
  • Keep your ear to the ground and if you hear anything on the grapevine be sure to share it.  Avoid being a total gossip, so divulge only the juiciest news.
  • Ask them what you can do to help them.
  • Take opportunities to expand their networks.  Invite them to important meetings, especially when there are decision makers there.
  • Let them know about any major achievements or big wins.  If their team looks good, they look good.


A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.John Maxwell

The Dory


They swim around, love a chat, and will tell you their life story given the chance.  They’re kind of in a world of their own and don’t seem to get a lot done.  They’re usually quite creative and innovative but it can be hard to get them to focus.


  • Play centre midfield and keep your boss away from the red-tape and drama.
  • Offer to solve their problems for them
  • Support their ideas but don’t be afraid to be the voice of reason if you have some constructive feedback.
  • Start up a conversation, share a joke, or ask about their weekend.  Small talk will go a long way to building your relationship.
  • Engage in some blue-sky thinking.  They’ll appreciate creative ideas that aren’t limited to the way things have always been done.


Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.Tom Peters

The Goat


This type of boss over-thinks and over-worries every situation.  They’re in a constant state of anxiety and likes to offload about all their woes and the crosses they must bear.  They’re not great at delegation because they think only they are capable of doing things.  Of course this leads to them being overwhelmed.


  • Offer an ear to bend or a shoulder to cry on.  Become a confidant by listening when they want to talk.
  • Don’t challenge them on details.  They know, that you know, that they know, most of the problems are exaggerated. Like any hypochondriac, they don’t want to be told there’s nothing wrong.
  • Volunteer to take on extra responsibilities, especially the stuff they’re stressed about.


If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.John Quincy Adams

The Golden Rule Of Managing Upwards

Love them or hate them, make your boss your number one priority.  A colleague of mine once complained to me that our boss was always chasing him for things that were overdue. He didn’t get to them because he was busy sorting out major client issues. His view was she could get in line for his attention because the clients came first.
Fatal mistake.
Before long, she came to think of him as disorganised and incompetent. In fact, he was far from it – he just hadn’t demonstrated it to her.   


Updating the Boss

Be prepared and be brief. Whether it’s a face-to-face meeting or your sending an email, here’s the agenda I recommend:
  • Top 3 successes – any good news stories and their impact as it relates to your performance targets.
  • Top 3 challenges – any major problems (internal/external) – and their impact.  Make sure you have solutions to these – even if you’re asking for advice. Don’t just pass the problem to your boss.
  • Top 3 priorities – let your manager know what you’re working on and make sure it’s aligned with their goals.
  • What you need – be explicit about any actions you want your boss to take to help you out.
  • What they need – ask your manager if there’s anything they need you to support them on or prioritise.
  • Development – any career goals, training or new opportunities you’d like to pursue.  Use your judgement on this.  It may not be appropriate to discuss every time you catch up with your boss.  You don’t want to sound like a broken record.




Further Reading

How To Get On The Radar and Get Promoted

There’s no time for modesty when it comes to your career.  This article offers some great tips on getting your boss’ attention and get noticed for all the right things.

HBRAscend: Interacting With Your Boss

A bunch of great articles that cover everything from what to do when you’re smarter than your boss to how to get the feedback you need. 


What are your tips on managing upwards?  Have you got any secrets to tame your boss?  Please share them in the comments below.


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– Leadership
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Managing upwards is the most important skill you can learn for your career - and your sanity. Learn the secrets to a happy boss.