Managing Up is Just About Effective Communication
Even though everyone puts his or her pants on the same way – typically one leg at a time – someone with authority can be intimidating, and junior employees may not be comfortable approaching leaders to discuss projects, ask questions or, heaven forbid, make small talk.
How many times have you heard someone say, “Oh, I don’t want a face-to-face with so and so because I’m afraid of sounding stupid?” Or have you had your own second thoughts and hesitated to discuss the status of something, or provide feedback because the person you needed to connect with seemed too busy, or you felt insecure about your role on a project?
An interesting fact: Through my coaching work with senior executives, I’ve learned interpersonal sensitivity goes both ways — Often, high-level managers are aware that they make people uncomfortable, and this makes them uncomfortable! They do want information, updates, and participation from a variety of sources, but they ARE busy, and each has his or her own personal style. So, if your job requires contact with senior leadership – or anyone, for that matter — it’s important to note these differences and adapt your style to someone’s unique personal style that may not be like yours.
Some senior leaders are no-nonsense, get right down to business types. Others take more of a personal interest in people and appreciate interaction, within the proper context. Some want high-level overviews only, and others really love getting into the weeds and need a ton of details. Understanding and respecting these personal information needs and styles – whether meaty, strategic or delivered from 20,000 feet — is critical for making a good impression and for being included in future meetings and projects.
Building credibility is key. If you’ve established a relationship through email updates and meetings, you probably know what’s important to the senior person, and you should have a sense of his or her style. There’s no need to tip-toe. Hopefully your own manager is comfortable with his or her direct reports getting positive, direct, high-level exposure – that’s one sign of a confident manager, someone who trusts his or her people and wants them to succeed and be known by leaders in the company.
It also is a great idea to know something about senior leaders. A little investigative research can go a long way. Learning about an executive’s hobbies, family interests or business success stories is a good ice-breaker in those first moments, or when a meeting is coming to an end. Even a quick scan of photographs, artwork, and items on someone’s desk or shelves can tell you a lot. Noticing and making an appropriate comment humanizes both parties – people are typically flattered when someone takes an interest in who they are. Just make sure you don’t take it too far or do it in a way that might be patronizing or too personally inquisitive.
So, in every interaction, whether personal or business, it’s smart to do your homework and know your audience. This helps make a strong impression, shows the senior leader you’re people savvy, and helps build rapport. Plan, be proactive, and most important be yourself – you certainly don’t want to be perceived as kissing up, however everyone appreciates positive interaction and likes knowing that you’ve made the extra effort to give them what they want and need, when they want and need it.