Managing Upwards

by Ian Saunders

Do you really know your boss?

Key action

Find out all you can about your boss beyond understanding their personal style.

So, going beyond personal style – what else do I know about my boss that may impact on how they manage me and what I can do to manage them more effectively?

To start with, can you answer the following questions?

  • When is their birthday?
  • Are they married?
  • Do they have children?
  • Where do they live?
  • What do they do in their spare time?

Think of other questions for yourself...

While you should not pry into the away-from-work circumstances of your boss, it is important to know about things that excite them, things that they care about and things that occupy their spare time. In this way, you will understand them better and be in a position to support and help them effectively.

So find out important details about your boss, especially those which they consider important.

Information and feedback

Sharing information about yourself and asking for feedback is a powerful way to build a better relationship with anyone, including and especially your boss. Johari’s window can help you here. Try out the ideas below and you will almost certainly build a better relationship.

This popular model helps you to think about information in relation to other people, helping you to know yourself and others better. The framework defines the information that is or is not available in a relationship and displays this in the form of a four-pane window.

Johari’s window

My public space

This contains things that I know about myself and that others also know about me. This may be information that I have shared with others about my feelings and attitudes or it may be my observable behaviour.

My unaware space

This reveals that there are things that others know about me of which I am unaware. All of us have mannerisms and other behaviours of which we are unaware.

My private space

This represents the things that I know about myself and don’t let others know about me. These are things that I may choose to keep to myself.

My potential

The final pane illustrates my potential – things that neither I nor others know about me. It may represent things that I have not yet explored about myself, such as my deep seated motivations, values and drivers. It can also be seen as the space that indicates the opportunity that I have to find out about new ideas, behaviours and needs.

Using the results

Johari’s window is a framework within which to reflect on how much I tell others about me – disclosure – and how much I encourage others to tell me things that they know about me and that I may not – feedback. It is based on trust. The more that I am willing to trust others, the more I will disclose. This openness will help to strengthen relationships and encourage others to give me feedback.

Reflect on how open you are with others. Ask yourself two questions.

  • What information do I withhold and why?
  • What information might others know about me that would help me to develop?

Having reflected on what you share and how much you seek feedback, what is the best way to access your potential? To make successful changes, ask the next questions and take action on the answers.

  • What will I share about myself? When? With whom?
  • Who, at work, will I ask for information about me? When? With whom?

So, who is your boss – really?

This section on knowing your boss has explored a variety of ways in which you might get to know them better in terms of styles and personal information.

Here are some more questions to ask yourself and some actions that you might find worth considering, depending on your answers.

  1. How often do I see my boss?

If the answer is rarely, find a time of day when they are more likely to be around and go and see them.

  1. Do other colleagues see them more often?

If the answer is yes and if you want to see them more, find out what the others talk to the boss about and then arrange to see them more often, if appropriate.

  1. Who do they report to? If it is a matrix structure, do I understand it well enough?

You need to understand the structure and, even more importantly, the ‘informal’ structure, which is where the real relationships often exist.

  1. How are they measured? How do they measure performance?

If you don’t know, then ask. It’s particularly vital to know your boss’ behavioural expectations. How you behave is often as important as actual business results!

  1. Do we have a performance management system and do I understand it?

If you don’t know, find out about it. If you do, do you use it effectively?

  1. What else can I do to understand my boss and manage upwards even more effectively?

Do anything that builds a better relationship. Better could be closer, more business-like, clearer, challenging – you decide to get what you want not what you just get!

It’s important to know how your boss is different from you. The models outlined here and on the previous page provide methods for identifying your differences and considering ways to manage upwards more effectively.

There are many other ways to identify differences between you and your boss. Investigate some of these, such as the animals model in the Political Intelligence topic. Show curiosity about your boss and you will be positively surprised by the benefits this brings you.