ggm Nonprofit Consulting LLC


Thoughts On

Leadership and Management

Managing Up

It's taken me longer than it should to accept that many people have an aversion to the idea of managing their bosses--and to start to understand why.  As a COO, managing up is practically part of the job description.  But as I tried to get my staff to better manage me and I supported others in their challenges with difficult bosses, I came to accept that my view isn't as widespread as (I think) it should be.

Of course, I'm not alone.  My favorite article on the topic is Managing Your Boss, by John Gabarro and John Kotter, but there's extensive literature on the subject.  Gabarro and Kotter talk in non-threatening ways about shared expectations, promoting a healthy flow of information, operating with dependability and honesty, and using your manger's time and energies effectively.

So why do so many in the nonprofit sector cringe at the concept?

  • Managing up is stigmatized as a tool for those who are careerist and/or manipulative. As nonprofit professionals we are less comfortable stepping into these notions, however unfair they are, than our for-profit counterparts.

  • We struggle enough with managing down--the idea that we should manage up as well is more than we can take in.

  • It's not a coincidence that so many people tell me they shouldn't have to mange up. Our view of the world as it should be drives our work every day, so it's not surprising that we apply the same lens to our organizations.

  • We fail to view management as a relationship, often preferring to think of it as a responsibility or necessary evil. Seen in that light, if we're managing up, we're actually doing someone else's job for them.

  • We are often deeply ambivalent about power (another subject for another day). Managing up can be misperceived as challenging or diminishing the power of our bosses.

I love to be managed by my staff.  I spend a lot of time with new staff, familiarizing them with my weaknesses (subject of another, longer! post?) so that they know how to work around or through these.   I let them know that I expect them to manage me.  The results are generally that they take more responsibility for their own work, feel more comfortable bringing me problems and enable me to use my time where it can have the highest value.  

Enhancing your team's ability to manage up, strengthens them as individuals, you as a manager and, most importantly, your whole organization.  Learn it!  Model it!  Enjoy.


Gary Gold-Moritz