With the start of the next football season just a few weeks away, Cardiff City coach Neil Warnock has spoken to Wales Online [1] about the side’s prospects in the Premier League, following its promotion from the Championship.

Warnock is broadly upbeat about the condition of his own role within the club, saying that the fans are onside, Malaysian owner Vincent Tan is onside, and he feels that he’s got “the best chairman”. However, he says: “I’ve had a struggle at times – I think managing upwards is more difficult at times than managing the team.”

In those few words, Warnock has flagged up one of the trickiest areas of the dynamic between junior and senior managers: how exactly do you manage upwards – not just in terms of reversing the flow of authority, but ensuring that your efforts to manage up are not misinterpreted as something altogether less helpful?

It’s a quandary that also surfaces in a 15 July column at Fast Company, [2] in which executive coach Suzan Bond describes a time early on in her career where her attempt to manage upwards by opposing a strategic change in her company was seen by her colleagues as stubborn resistance, and they pulled her up on it.

“Without that reality check,” she writes, “it could well have cost me my job. The truth was that I didn’t see my resistance as a problem; I thought I was sticking up for myself instead of getting dragged along against my will.”

She adds: “Initially, I was focused on what the change meant for me, rather than what it meant for the organisation as a whole. After that conversation, though, it was easier to shift my vantage point to include a ton of other context about the full situation my team was facing. The change I was so afraid of? It actually turned out to provide me with more opportunities to learn and challenge myself in my work, which I simply hadn’t anticipated.”

When should junior managers feel that it’s okay to manage up – and how should they go about it?

The Institute of Leadership & Management's head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “A young graduate who hadn’t been in her job very long once told me that it was clear to her that she was in her job specifically to make her boss look good. And if we consider notions of servant leadership – that we’re all working towards a higher purpose – then we should all be managing upwards and downwards at the same time. At no point should any of this mean setting out with some manipulative intent: it’s about all of us together wanting to achieve something better.

“But as the Suzan Bond example shows, there has to be a certain humility – and generosity of spirit – in the junior’s outlook. Because if they help their boss to look good, then their department or section also looks good, and the benefits flow to everyone.

By the same token, Cooper warns, “any boss who unilaterally assumes people’s hard-won credit, or simply doesn’t give credit where it’s due, is taking a very inauthentic position. It’s also unlikely to be a sustainable one. I have seen some great stuff on LinkedIn recently about how people don’t leave jobs, but managers – and that’s the sort of manager that you’d typically leave.”

She adds: “If you get pleasure from seeing your manager succeed, then that, to me, is great managing upwards. But if that manager then scoops up all the credit for the relevant achievement, that’s not fulfilling the criteria for an authentic relationship. So at the heart of all this is the extent to which the relationship is a reciprocal one.”

For further thoughts and insights on managing upwards, check out these learning resources from the Institute

Source refs: [1] [2]

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