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The CU Denver Business School Alumni Network (BSAN) hosted another session in its four-part 2018-2019 Career Edge Webinar Series aimed at sharing expert advice and resources for Denver job-seekers and professionals, this time focusing on how to build an effective relationship with your boss.

The information-packed webinar was presented by Dr. Lauren Ramsay, the Chief Strategy and Research Officer at Colorado Department of Higher Education and moderated by Emily Copeland (MBA ’00), the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at CoBank.

Dr. Ramsay’s expertise lies in providing science-based support for organizations, using data to understand organizational issues. Dr. Ramsay also serves as Lecturer at the Business School and Instructor at the CU Boulder Leeds School of Business. She shared practical tips and advice to build a healthy, respectful relationship with your manager to improve morale and productivity and ultimately, boost your career.

“Managing up isn’t about sucking up – it’s really about making sure that you are equipped to be as successful as you can be in your job.”

Managing Up is Leading

As a leader, your core values drive action in your work. It should be really clear to others, through your decisions and actions, what your values are.

Define and Embody Your Core Values

Core values or fundamental beliefs are crucial as you think about your place in the organization. Acting in line with your core values is crucial to being authentic. You need to know who you are and what you value most. Letting others know who you also makes you easier to work with. Letting your boss know your core values is fundamental in building a solid relationship and hopefully it’s a place where you can build mutual respect.

Inspiring Trust

Acting in line with your core values allows people to know you and it builds trust. This means you have to take actions:

  • Commit and follow through – Do what you say you’re going to do. Reliability really pays off and bosses appreciate those employees that they can depend on.
  • Perform – What are the metrics on which you are measured? Are you expected to save money or drive a particular customer satisfaction score? Whatever it is, ace it. If you are a high achiever in terms of your organizational performance, a boss is going to look to you for insights.
  • Be an expert – Use your expertise to shine. Bosses don’t know the answers to all questions and having technical experts to depend on is fantastic and allows the building of trust.
  • Be supportive – Be willing to say “I can help – let me give it a shot”. If you can make life a little bit easier for your boss that is certainly going to warm your boss’s heart and make them feel more receptive to your comments down the line.
  • Be honest – Be willing to say what you see. Sometimes bosses just aren’t having the conversations with the right people that would give them broader insights. Be willing to hold up the mirror to a boss so they can see how they are behaving or how they’re being perceived.
  • Empathize – How would you feel in their shoes? It really is important to be able to put yourself in somebody else’s shoes and empathize with them. Bosses don’t want to be embarrassed or out of the loop either so remember – they’re only human too.
  • Let others truly know you – Sometimes people are concerned about letting too much of themselves show at work, but your life stories allow people to connect with you and let your boss know who you really are. The more you build trust, the more you’ve let somebody know who you are and what’s important to you, and then the more supportive your environment is going to be.

Creating and communicating vision

As a leader, you’re responsible for creating and communicating vision but this is also crucial as you’re trying to manage up.

  • Focus on alignment – Bosses can get distracted and it’s important for you to help keep them on track. It drives success for you, your boss, and the organization.
  • Understand preferences – Does your boss like to meet one-on-one? Do they prefer to just receive information by email or would they like a phone call or even text? Understanding those communication preferences and learning how to operate with the right cadence is really important. Being deliberate about how and when you communicate is a skill that is worth developing.
  • Chill – There are times we all get our knickers in a knot over one thing or another. It is important to chill – people make mistakes, people get caught by timelines. Be able to take a breath, be kind, be empathetic. There’s no need to be a jerk about it.

Executing Strategy

As a leader, you’re responsible for executing strategy. Use that same approach when you’re managing up.

  • Focus on capabilities – Focus on the capabilities within the organization – what are the strengths of the organization? What are the strengths of the individuals on your team, your peers, and yourself? Take the opportunity to highlight those strengths so that a boss is fully informed about where those strengths lie – especially a new boss coming in.
  • Understand context – Understand the context in which your boss is working and recognize that there may be times that you’re barking up the wrong tree. Maybe you don’t understand the whole picture. There may be some context there that you’re not informed about so be willing to explore and ask questions. You will only make yourself more valuable to your boss by understanding what the organization really is trying to achieve.
  • Share grounded, honest feedback – Leverage opportunities to share grounded, honest feedback with your boss. Your insights can be especially valuable and can supplement insights that your boss already has, so make sure that you use those opportunities. Bosses don’t need you to dump your bucket of complaints on them though – remember to address issues through a solution-focused lens.

Coaching Others

As a leader in an organization, part of your job is to coach others and that includes taking the opportunity to coach up.

  • Bosses need coaching, too – Look for opportunities where a boss has strengths as well as opportunities for improvement. Be willing to share feedback on the things that they’re doing well and the things that they probably need to work on.
  • Adult-to-adult – What we really want in a healthy organization is adult-to-adult conversations. There may be times that a boss speaks to you a bit like a critical parent and that may in turn trigger you to respond in a childlike, whiney way. It is important to remember that you are an adult – you have technical skills, insights, capacity, etc. Speak adult-to-adult to your boss and that will help to build a strong relationship.

To sum it up

Managing up isn’t about sucking up – it’s really about making sure that you are equipped to be as successful as you can be in your job.

  • Be your best self
  • Be worthy of trust
  • Focus on vision
  • Offer solutions
  • Hold up the mirror

The 45-minute webinar covered even more valuable in-depth advice with a Q&A session at the end. If you missed it, you can view the entire webinar online anytime.

More advice and resources available

The four-part 2018-2019 Career Edge Webinar Series, hosted by the CU Denver Business School, offers valuable insight on local industry trends and professional development and is presented by our Alumni and local business experts. Catch up on all the webinars online anytime.

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