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Managing upwards

One of the keys to success at work is understanding what makes your boss tick. Yet surprisingly, this is something we often do not pay enough attention to.

When I started working for one boss, he told me in our first meeting ‘I want you to focus on solutions, not problems’ and this completely changed the way I approached my work. This knowledge helped me prepare well for our meetings and built our relationship on solid foundations. I didn’t always get it right, but knowing his criteria for a successful relationship helped me focus on what was important to him and therefore how to get the best from the time we spent working together. This also influenced his perception of my performance – critical for the end of year appraisal.

So how can you find out what is important to your boss?

  • An easy way to do so is to ask what her expectations of you are, and what sort of evidence she will look for to assess whether they have been met. This is a good discussion point for an initial meeting with a new boss, although she might need some time to think about it if it is not something she has articulated before. It certainly shows that you want to get the relationship off to a good start. After all, the clearer you are about her expectations, the more likely you are to meet them.
  • Identify someone who works for your boss now or who has worked for them in the past and ask them about what works – and what doesn’t - from their own experience. This can give you some insight into what will work for you.
  • Observe her reactions to situations – and identify any trends. It could be that deadlines or a prompt start to a meeting are more important to your boss than they are to you. You will notice if she gets agitated when you or others turn up late for a meeting or deadlines are not met.
  • If she is not happy about something you have done, ask for specific feedback about how things could have been done better, so you’ll know for the future. Nothing irritates more than people repeatedly making the same mistakes, because it appears that they don’t care – this is why feedback is vital.
  • Think about what you can do to make your boss’s job easier – for example, by preparing some initial points for a presentation she is doing, or doing an early draft of a regular report that is coming up. Not only does this create a good impression, it also helps prepare you for the next job up the ladder.

Managing upwards is an under-rated skill. Do it effectively and you will stand out from your colleagues – a very positive influence for your future career!


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