As you climb up the leadership ladder, managing up becomes increasingly important. Nearly every Executive Coaching program we run across the Private, Public and Not-for-Profit Sectors involves an element of managing up. As you transition into the senior-middle management layer especially, the focus particularly changes.
Often we see a turning point when leading your team is considered to be business as usual and simply expected of you, and that you increasingly need to widen your leadership lens to include a much sharper focus on leading upwards and outwards. This is where things can get difficult for many leaders.
Things start to feel very different – almost overnight and without warning sometimes. You can feel like you’re in this no-man’s land, being pushed & pulled from all directions. Conflicting demands coming at you from every angle. Your team want this…your manager wants that…Demands that often feel conflicting, oppositional and exclusive, as far apart as day & night.
Welcome to the the Middle Management Twilight Zone. Your role is now to manage the transition of night to day, day to night
On one hand, you now need to translate and polarise the often ambiguous nighttime strategic needs language coming through your boss from the Board/CEO/Executive leadership team through the dawn into the more polarised daylight language of something your team understands and finds rewarding, so you can lead and motivate them to deliver what needs to be done.
On the other hand, your role is to report upwards in a way your manager finds useful. You also have to translate the polarised daytime team language, achievements, challenges and needs through the sunset into the more ambiguous nighttime language that your boss wants – and needs – to hear.
And not just your boss. Your boss’s boss is a critical part of this equation too.
As a middle manager managing up, you need to think in your boss’s shoes as well as their boss’s shoes. You need to understand what your boss is thinking and what their boss is thinking. And then give them the information in a language that they understand and can pass upwards to the next level.
The perspective you need to consider is “what information does my manager need to pass on to their boss if they’re suddenly collared and questioned in the corridor? What’s important to my boss and my boss’s boss? What language do they need the information in?”
Managing up in this way is a critical part of leadership at every level from the moment you step into a leadership role (and probably before you actually get promoted too), but at the middle-senior management level it often becomes the deciding factor in your future leadership success – and your team’s ultimate success. The earlier you learn this the better.
There is never too early a time to start! The more you can learn and practice in your junior leadership role the more successful you’ll be with leading your team and in leading upwards. The leading upwards part is often the deciding factor in where your career goes.
In my younger leadership days, I used to focus totally on leading my teams. Through my idealistic leadership lens, it was the most important thing. And of course it IS. Never, ever lose focus of that. That’s something leaders at all levels need to continue to do, no matter how senior.
However, the managing up aspects of leadership are also critical, and need to be consciously learned and continually developed. I wish I’d realised the importance of managing up when I was a young leader. Looking back on my younger leadership days with my current experience, I realise my upwards management…um, let’s just say it left a lot to be desired! Make sure you don’t make the same mistakes I did!
Don’t just walk a mile in your boss’ shoes – walk many miles in different shoes in different terrains at night and day. Build a picture of what they need and the language they need it translated into. Then make some conscious choice about delivering on that.
We’ve found through experience that using an aspect of our T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership style in Upwards Management can make you much more effective in Managing up.
Simply asking your boss the question: “What’s your thinking around that?” can give you the insight into the why’s and wherefores of what your boss’s perspective is on things. It opens space for your boss to be truly heard and for you to understand. You can also ask them directly what they need from you, when and in what language/format, etc. Then be quiet and listen. Take off your Middle Management filters & judgement and listen with an open mind.
“This was probably the best leadership course I have done with lots of relevant knowledge and very practical skills/tools to use.”
Administration Officer, NSW Police
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership
We define leadership as not just leading your team. It’s also leading yourself, leading your peers and of course leading (managing) upwards.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership is ask not tell, listen over talk, get people thinking of their own solutions and ideas rather than giving them yours, approx 70% of the time. Your manager is also a human being (even though it may not feel like it sometimes!) who’s brain basically operates in the same way yours does, with the same reactions to and needs for the various chemical cocktails that flood into it.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership (upwards as well as downwards) fits in with the neuroscience research in that it puts good chemicals into people’s brains so people feel valued and appreciated. They feel happier and hence perform better. It also ticks the boxes of many other empirical and behavioural research. It is also the core behavioural competency underpinning emotional intelligence.
A T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership style (approx 70% of the time) will produce happier, more engaged, people who take more responsibility and think more for themselves and solve more problems themselves.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership develops people who operate at peak performance; drive better productivity; deliver better outcomes. More innovation will also result. Aren’t these the things we all want as leaders? And from our leaders?
Southern Cross Coaching & Development offers our unique T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership program that gives leaders the tools they need to become Coaching Leaders. We’ve had such incredible feedback from our clients who have adopted our unique, profoundly simple, practical and immediately applicable T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership model.
Clients who have adopted it include globally listed companies, large NSW Government agencies, nationally listed and large privately owned corporations.
Our T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership model transcends culture and has proven itself time & time again from CEOs & Executives to new managers. We’ve rolled out the program in Australia and overseas i.e. Malaysia, Singapore. Ask us how it can benefit your team or organisation by getting in touch with us.