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Leadership and the art of managing up


March 8, 2018

Reading recent headlines about how many British workers hate their boss (22% apparently) reminds us of the difficulties of leadership. In Lean, leaders are particularly important for driving forward the programme and helping to bring about cultural change, but it’s not uncommon to find that it’s the leaders themselves who are causing a roadblock on the Lean journey. However, there is much that leaders can learn from their teams about how to be a better boss, which will ultimately benefit both parties, as well as the wider business.

Here’s a short guide to managing up, however tricky your boss is.

Stay a step ahead

One of the more common mistakes made by those in leadership roles is being overly controlling. In a recent survey on ‘horrible bosses’, 45% of respondents classed their boss as a ‘control freak’ and, whether this perception is true or not, if subordinates feel they have no autonomy, their leader will never get the best out of them. An autocratic, micromanaging leader can be headed off at the pass by team members who are one step ahead of them. By anticipating what they’re about to ask you, going the extra mile on the detail and always having information at your fingertips, they should eventually realise that they can rely on you without breathing down your neck.

Rebalance your relationship

Good teamwork is vital to the success of Lean, so poor management and leadership can be the death of a Lean programme. If your boss likes to take all the glory for themselves or appears to ignore input from team members, it’s important to remember that your relationship is actually interdependent and the leader doesn’t hold all the cards.

Managers get promoted when they do a good job, but this can only really be demonstrated by their team performing at the top of their game; a failing team reveals poor leadership. In this instance, managing up means making your boss understand the importance of this symbiotic relationship and finding an effective way to work together so everyone can bask in the shared glory.

Make your boss look good

On this note, if you can help to make your boss successful, it will increase your chances of benefiting when they are rewarded. A leader who feels that his or her team has ‘got their back’ is much more likely to remember their contribution when they are promoted, perhaps recommending them for promotions, bonuses or new responsibilities. If your boss takes you with them as they climb the career ladder, it’s the pinnacle of successful managing up.

Use simple psychology

Increasingly, businesses are using psychologists to help unlock leadership problems and there are also some classic techniques from couples’ therapy which workers can use when dealing with a difficult manager. Rather than fantasising about killing your boss (which 12% of people admit to doing), channel your energies into changing your behaviour and interactions with challenging leaders to give you more control and influence in the relationship.

Try mirroring their behaviour or repeating back what they say to you to sense-check it; this will make them think twice about the meaning and influence of their words and actions. You could also use empathy to build a rapport and make them feel that you understand their situation; the life of a leader can be lonely, so this can be a very powerful way to get them on-side.

Getting the best out of your boss and successfully managing up is a real skill. It will also help you develop significant leadership abilities of your own and benefit the wider organisation.

If your Lean project is hitting the buffers thanks to substandard leadership, we can offer advice and training to help get things back on track. Alternatively, if you’ve successfully unlocked leadership problems, I’d love to hear how you did it. Email me at [email protected]morecruitment.com, or tweet @kumo_ian.

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