Your supervisor keeps pushing off your latest check-in, but you could really use his or her feedback on a few projects. You’ve identified some areas for innovation and would like to run them by your manager before you put your new ideas in motion. You think shifting your schedule around and reordering your projects is the best course of action.Hopefully, in any of these situations, you realize that you need to do two things — get on your boss’ calendar and then lead a discussion about the realities (and potentialities) of your workload. In other words, you need to “manage up.”What is managing up?Managing up refers to the process of using initiative and communication to lighten your boss’ workload. Said a different way, it’s about supporting your supervisor’s efforts and goals by identifying and sharing ideas for growth. In The Wall Street Journal article “What it Means to Manage Up,” Elizabeth Garone shares an explanation from expert Rosanne Badowski (who literally wrote the book on managing up). She describes it as: “…stretch[ing] yourself. You need to go above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work. You need to go above and beyond the tasks assigned to you so that you can enhance your manager’s work.”The fundamentals stay the same, but in practice, managing up will vary from employee to employee. For example, taking initiative could mean signing up for additional responsibilities, researching new methodologies, connecting with influential contacts, or setting up additional meetings with your supervisor. A shift in communication could occur via a change in frequency (i.e., asking to check in more — or less — often), or by adopting a new tone or approach. As such, if you’re taking on more work and interacting with your boss more effectively, you’re lightening his load (both insofar as the overall task-list, as well as his role overseeing your work).
We’ve rarely needed leaders more — but wanted the leaders we have less.It’s as if we’ve forgotten what leadership really is, and confused it with what it isn’t.What’s not leadership? For one thing, performing. Leadership is not making the right faces, memorizing the right lines, pumping your fist in precisely the right way at exactly the right moment. It’s being. Let me explain the difference. What happens, for example, when the situation goes off script, or when the audience heckles, or when the walls of the theater begin to collapse? The actor, if he cannot improvise, is left paralyzed. Yet that is what we see today: leader after leader left paralyzed by the unexpected turmoil of an uneasy age in an uncertain world, whether those leaders are political, social, cultural, or corporate. So we study the scripts, memorize the lines, carefully examine the angle of our fist pumps.I’ll give you a simple example. No one would have predicted just a decade ago that Nokia would be something like a distant memory of a household name. Yet while its decline was happening, Nokia’s leaders, though they were acting like leaders — reassuring, confident, calm, giving fine speeches — were not being leaders. They weren’t doing the things they had to do to set their company up for the future, things that, precisely because the future is uncertain, sometimes make you look hesitant, or fumbling, or foolish.Nor is leadership performing in that other sense, the sense of being “a high performer.” And yet too often we look for leaders among the profit maximizers and goal attainers. But a leader’s fundamental role isn’t merely to perform the same tasks as yesterday, just more efficiently; it is to redefine the idea of performance entirely. Consider: Pierre Omidyar, founder of Ebay, probably wouldn’t have made a great Sotheby’s auctioneer. Jimmy Wales, co-founder of Wikipedia, probably would have sucked as CEO of Encyclopedia Britannica. Craig Newmark, founder of Craigslist, probably wouldn’t have been a great classifieds editor.If our goal is discovering and cultivating leaders like that, then we aren’t likely to find them among our best performers, but among those who are challenging our ideas of what performance can be. And if we only promote the “high achievers” to leadership, should we be all that surprised when we just get more of the same?