Managing Upwards

by Ian Saunders

How does your boss differ from you?

The simplest way to manage upwards more effectively is to gain a more accurate understanding of your boss’ style, likes and dislikes, sensitive points and so on. You will know some things instinctively; others you will need to think about a little.

Key action

Find out all you can about your boss’ style through observation and questions using an appropriate model or framework.

Personal style

Do you really know in what ways your boss is different from you? You can identify these differences by using a wide variety of models and frameworks. We have employed the grid here, as it is a simple and easily applied model.

The grid outlines nine behavioural styles. It focuses on behaviour and enables you to diagnose differences between you and your boss and to identify actions to improve relationships and effectiveness.

The styles are based on two things:

  • On the horizontal axis is a varying mix of behaviours that we use to control others, ranging from ask to tell.
  • The vertical axis reflects what we do with our emotions – channel them inwards or outwards.

Personal style grid

To use the grid for managing upwards (or to work effectively with anyone), ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Is this person to the left or right of me? – do they ask more or tell more?

People to the right of you will tend to

  • like more freedom
  • be more active and energetic in getting things done
  • like praise and acknowledgement to be in public
  • enjoy power
  • blame others for things that go wrong.

People to the left of you will tend to

  • seek direction and re-assurance about actions
  • value procedure and policy as providing stability
  • prefer someone else to ‘own’ things
  • blame themselves if things go wrong.
  1. Is this person more up or down than me? Are they more task focused or more people focused?

People more ‘up’ than you will tend to

  • focus on the task and fail to consider the people aspects adequately
  • seek safety in structure and order
  • value facts and figures, information and analysis
  • want to be valued for the work that they do.

People more ‘down’ than you will tend to

  • seek personal recognition
  • value and are comfortable with emotions
  • want to be respected as a ‘people’ person
  • seek out positive discussions.

Once you have established whether – in general – you think your boss (or anyone else) is more up, down, left or right of you, acting on the following simple suggestions will make a difference.

  1. When working with someone to the right of you, aim to be more decisive.
  2. When working with someone to the left of you, aim to listen more.
  3. When working with someone up from you, be more careful about structure and order.
  4. When working with someone down from you, show more concern for people and emotional issues.

Using the personal style grid