Managing up when you think differently

Managing up when you think differently

Working face to face or in an office facilitates some level of intuition around how your co-workers operate. This is not so in cyberspace when your meetings are virtual and your calendar is cloud-hosted.

In the continuing series where we hear from Team Ladybadass about how we teach each other how we think. And as you’ll read, we don’t always think the same way. Which makes me throw out this challenge to you all, have you talked to your boss about how you might think differently? It might open up all sorts of conversations.

From Julia….


Joanna has too much on her plate. Like most bosses, she has more responsibilities than any one person can reasonably manage. Like most bosses, the need for a team of people working alongside and underneath her is a serious one. Unlike most bosses, Joanna herself is the vision, the company, and the product all rolled into one.

The need for managing up as such, is high. 

In a situation where your boss is the embodiment of their company, they are living and breathing their project, and manifesting a particular vision, the delineation between their personal life and their corporate one is thin. They are always thinking about pushing the project forward, improving the experience, further fleshing out what they’ve already imagined, and deepening the available value. 

This is not so uncommon these days, the blurring between personal and professional. So many individuals are the realization of their brand, so to speak. 

Unique challenges come with this haziness. 

Managing up, at its core and in its most basic iteration is about 4 crucial elements; learning to anticipate your boss’ needs, understanding their tendencies and preferences, knowing how best to discuss issues with your boss, and positioning yourself as someone who is consistently a helpful resource. 

For me, math problems in middle school started with the answer. I would arrive at the solution but I could never quite explain how I got there. My teachers would express concern or confusion and I would scoff - Here is the answer, it’s correct, what's the issue? They would request that I show my work, unclear on how I got the right answer. 

At some point, this approach (if we can call it that) stops working. In math, you get every so slightly the wrong answer, you can’t explain how you arrived there, and your teacher can’t show you where you went wrong if you can’t clearly outline the path you took. The same issue arises in other arenas, in the arena of managing up for example. For a while, producing the right result works, provided you don’t make any mistakes. Provided, you do the impossible. Eventually and inevitably, you make a mistake at work, and your boss points out your error. 

If you’re unable to explain where you made the mistake, how it happened, or what you plan to do to fix it, you leave your superiors at a loss. 

Going about things backwards has its advantages. Often, I am thinking about things in a slightly different way than other people in the room; imagining the possibilities before much else has been outlined, situating things in a broad social context, explaining the final stages of things before I have given any exposition, always working my way back to the beginning. I have a tendency to begin things with a question. An initial point of inquiry seems like the best way to get rolling.

Developing a clear understanding of how it is that you think about things is useful. Being able to explicate to your friends, coworkers, and bosses your intended process and intended outcome reassures everyone. It facilitates knowledge share and transfer; maybe they can see a potential issue that you cannot. It expands everyone's horizons; maybe you are thinking about something that has not occurred to them. As part one of managing up, it is crucial. In an environment where your boss is an entrepreneur, this first step is necessary to nail. 

I am working on getting super clear about how it is that I think about and relate to issues. In some sense, University taught me a variety of ways to think about things, different approaches. But not until now have I been asked to explain exactly what that process is outside of an academic context, and let me tell you that it is different.

Additionally, modern work environments make the task particularly necessary. Working face to face or in an office facilitates some level of intuition around how your co-workers operate. This is not so in cyberspace when your meetings are virtual and your calendar is cloud-hosted.

You can’t see that your team-members desk is a perfectly organized chaos. You miss out on hand gestures. It is harder to key into the words people use to describe problems or solutions that might otherwise give you a clue; phrases like “picture this,” “feel that,” or “hearing you” etc.

Hopefully, this clarity will allow me to better manage up. If I understand and can articulate to my superiors exactly what kind of backwards process I am engaging, then I have at least part one of the managing up process locked down. If I can manage up, I will better build trust, cultivate dynamic work relationships, and contribute to my work environment. 

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