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2 min readHow To Manage Up

by Guy Gage | June 2, 2019 | Business, Leadership, Performance

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve had three coaching calls with senior managers who were experiencing significant frustration. They have been tasked by their firm leaders with accomplishing important firm objectives. But each manager has been thwarted by an uncooperative partner. Each felt stuck and frustrated to the point of exasperation.

While my coaching calls were individual and extensive beyond what I can share here, I’d like to give you some ways you can manage up. But let’s remember a couple of realities.

Current Capabilities

When you are responsible for your own work as a performer, you are in full control to achieve the goal. You take the right actions and you’ve gotten positive results.

When you are directing a team, you coordinate the work of others to accomplish the goal. You plan, organize, communicate and monitor the engagement to positive results. When there are problems, you solve them because they are within your line of authority.

And up to now, you have been able to drive success. You are accustomed to getting results and others expect it of you. But those capabilities are insufficient in managing-up situations. You have to learn a new competency—the ability to facilitate success, which is different from driving success.

A New Competency

First, you have to gain a different perspective. In the case where you have someone senior to you not playing well, they are demonstrating that they are stuck in their own way. So rather than trying to get them to fall in line with your success-pursuit, you would do well to understand how they are stuck and help them get unstuck.

There are three typical ways they feel stuck. Sometimes their personal goals don’t align with the organization’s goals. Sometimes their workload is so great that your priorities aren’t their priorities.  Sometimes they openly disagree with a goal or direction that you have been charged to achieve. In all of these situations, you will be continually frustrated if you expect to gain their cooperation.

Some Examples

What if you were to take a different approach in helping them resolve their feelings of frustration and being stuck? Rather than driving them to conform to your goals, what if you facilitated their goals? Every situation is different, so here are some ways that signify a different approach and may be helpful to you some day.

  • Assume an advocate role and empathize with their situation. “It seems that the firm’s goal and what you want are different and you feel stuck in the middle. How can I help?”
  • Acknowledge and appreciate the partner’s resistance as an attempt to prevent a mistake. Then discuss how else they may express their concern—who to talk to, how state their concern differently and how you can help.
  • Admit your limitation to someone higher in authority about the situation. “I know you have charged me to accomplish this goal and it appears that (partner) isn’t in agreement. Since this is beyond me, how do you want to proceed and how can I help?”

In all of these approaches, you are no longer the driver. You become the facilitator. You suspend your ego investment to succeed and you become a support to the others. Because you are facilitating, your frustration decreases because you aren’t trying to solve someone else’s problem.

While there are times you just have to push through various constraints, sometimes you have to shift roles from driver to facilitator. Just use your frustration barometer to signal when it’s time to modify your role and avoid unneeded frustration.

Coaching firm leaders is what I do. If you would like to hear more about individual or firm coaching options, contact me.

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