Managing up, managing down.

December 28, 2012
True, dat.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with the realities of corporate life, but I remember it well.  Here in Silicon Valley, it was always interesting (and sometimes highly entertaining) to notice who managed well.

And by managing well, I mean it in the broadest sense of the word.

Some people manage “down” very well. They have the skill and the knack of making their direct reports (a nicer word than subordinates or underlings) feel good. They do an appropriate amount of nurturing and can still be firm. They know how to get performance out of people.

That also applies to the ability to work with people who don’t report to you, whom you don’t perceive as powerful in your sphere, and how you treat them.

“Managing down” is what we called it.

You’d think it would be highly valued. But managing staff and others wasn’t always the key to corporate success.

Corporate success usually came to those who did a great job of “managing UP.”

In other words, if you understood how to work your boss, chances are you’d do well. You’d get opportunities that others wouldn’t, and maybe even promotions.  Sometimes it meant kissing your boss’ ass but other times it meant just knowing how to work appropriately with him or her. Making the boss look good is key to “managing up.” Or at least making them think you’re making them look good.

I once worked for a boss who slept with her boss. It was a full-out affair, and an extreme case of managing up and doing it effectively, at least until the board of directors dumped her. Just after they dumped HIM. 

Yes, managing up” can be tricky.

Some people are equally effective at both managing up and managing down. They have the talent to know how to interact with anyone in an organization. And those were people I respected and admired.

But it was always the most fun is to watch people who only manage up really well and who think that no one notices that they discount everyone else.

I’m around a few organizations these days, and I’m someone who pays attention, even when what’s going on doesn’t involve me.

In fact, just saw someone very full of themselves define the word “obsequious” in a meeting with people they thought were influential, and then, at a later meeting, with people they thought were inconsequential, behave entirely differently.

Yes, watching someone manage up, but not down, can be very entertaining for disinterested onlookers.


8 comments on “Managing up, managing down.
  1. Geek Girl says:

    Yes. I can relate. I am still stuck in that corporate world. Thanks for taking this subject and making it entertaining. 🙂 Nice to meet you!

  2. Grace Hodgin says:

    Very interesting view of corporate life and how to survive. I’ll pass this along to others I know in corporate life mode now.

  3. I worked for the largest automaker in the world (at the time). The managing up and down (as you call it) was extremely amusing. I found the very best managers were those who “managed by walking around”. They could do not be fooled by those under them and were respected because they understood the process. They had the respect of those above them because they could really relate what was going on and as such they rarely needed to “Kiss ass”.

  4. It is tricky business indeed. Not only do you have to be on top of your game (skillset), you have to be the Dr. Phil of people to succeed. Thus the reason I’ve not worked in corporate America for 25 years — like a belly button I prefer to be an “outie” not an “innie” and freelance.

  5. Ellen Dolgen says:

    You’re right. There is a fine line between managing up and kissing down :>)

  6. Bonnie says:

    Great observations! It sure is interesting to see what is actually going on…don’t they realize we’re on to them??

  7. Haralee says:

    I remember those days well!

  8. Jennifer Comet Wagner says:

    I was always better at managing down. I cared about making the workplace better for my employees. I think it is harder to manage up if you don’t agree with some of their policies or tasks.

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