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Blog : Managing Upwards


Managing Upwards

When coaching those at a senior management and board level, one of the most common issues we come across is people’s lack of willingness or ability to successfully manage upwards. This might be to do with issues such as assertiveness, communication, lack of clarity and can mean priorities aren’t managed effectively. 

Senior executives generally have strong and persuasive personalities which presents a challenge. We often use psychometrics when coaching to help people understand personal drivers and ways of communicating. One well-established tool, SDI™ (Strength Deployment Inventory) for example, is simple in format, using colours to describe three main personality traits – red (ambitious, achievement driven), blue (nurturing, altruistic) and green (detailed, analytical). Many senior executives fall into the ‘red’ category. In simple terms, they’re motivated by control and getting things done, they’re very assertive and directing. Key characteristics would include:

  • Ambitious
  • Persuasive
  • Forceful
  • Quick to act
  • Competitive
  • Risk taking

Whatever the personal drivers, one can see how managing up to this type of line manager could be a challenge. Clearly learning to understand how the person one reports to ’ticks’ and how to communicate with them will enable the best results and outcomes including minimal conflict so as to enjoy a mutually beneficial relationship.

Ten tips to remember when working effectively with ‘red’ people:

  1. Ensure the brief is clear
  2. Respond quickly
  3. Illustrate the results; talk in terms of outcomes
  4. Be direct – avoid waffle or long emails
  5. Speak and write in bullet points
  6. Think about the ‘big picture’ keeping back the detail unless it’s requested
  7. Deliver on your commitments and keep them informed if schedules are changed
  8. Remain focused
  9. Resolve issues quickly and take responsibility
  10. Ensure criticism is backed up with facts

There are a number of other reasons why senior level management sometimes struggle to manage upwards. One of these is dealing and working with the boundaries that are set by their line manager.  

Some of the key issues that come up are:

  • Lack of clarity regarding direction, goals/objectives and outcomes
  • Unclear understanding of how their performance will be evaluated and measured
  • Inappropriate support that fits style of person being managed
  • Rewards given may not be motivating to individual being managed
  • Lack of acceptance and appreciation for differing psychometric profiles

No matter how the line manager– subordinate relationship works, it’s vital that time is invested to work on the business relationship. How does it work for you?

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