While I was talking with a young, new manager a of couple weeks ago, he said his manager is really good at “managing up.” When I asked him what he meant, he said “you know, never pushing back, always saying yes—gives her what she wants.” Yikes! It reminded me that we throw around phrases that have a very negative connotation, yet could also be positive and helpful.

Managing up can mean to some people that the manager is somehow duped into thinking all is well or that the person “has her back.” Most of the people I talk to don’t want to be viewed as good at managing up in that way.

Here is an alternative way of thinking. Managing up means that you:

  • Understand the background, concerns, and interests of your manager (or her manager and so on upward and outward).
  • Observe and gather information that will help you make a compelling case.
  • Are able to influence his or her thinking or decisions by using information and what you know about the person.

The key point here is that the information on any topic or decisions may not deliver the best outcomes. We wish we could simply “say it like we see it.” But, when other people are involved, we often have to look through their lens to impact the result.

Yes, you could be considered manipulative, but that’s a matter of intention. And, intention always matters. You don’t have to have a negative intent to be quite influential. I believe that you can be equally or even more powerful when you keep the good of the organization or team results in mind.

It strikes me as I write this post that we often hear admiration of colleagues who “really manage up well”—unfortunately, often said with envy.

Note to Managers—Always remember that your direct reports can slip into the mindset of managing you to get what they want and that you are on the other side of great influencing. Share what matters to you. Demand good data to support recommendations. Be open and allow yourself to be influenced for the good of the ultimate results.