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Managing Up for Graduates: An Interview with Careerstone President, Mary Abbajay, Author of Managing

What does it mean to “manage up, and how can managing up help you succeed in your first job, and beyond?

Managing up means managing the relationships that matter most in the workplace—especially the ones with our bosses. It is not about sucking up, kissing butt, or becoming a sycophant. Managing up is about consciously and deliberatively developing and maintaining effective relationships with supervisors, bosses, and other people above us in the chain of command. It is a deliberate effort to increase cooperation and collaboration in a relationship between individuals who often have different perspectives, personalities, and uneven power levels in order to create success for you, your boss, and the organization.


Managing up is important because your boss matters. As much as we would love to believe that the work world is a meritocracy, where just being great at your job is all we need to succeed, reality tells a different story. The real (and inconvenient) truth is that your boss has a great deal of influence over your career success and trajectory. Your relationship with her, and her experience with you, will determine the kinds of opportunities that come your way at work. Establishing strong, productive working relationships is the single most effective way to accelerate success in any organization. Earn your boss’s trust and good things come your way; incur your boss’s ire and you may find yourself out of the running for promotions and opportunities. Long story short, your relationship with your boss can hurt or help you. It’s up to you.



If my boss is getting paid for their position as a manger, why should I have to be the one to adapt/manage up to them? How will it ultimately pay off for me to learn to manage up in my workplace experience?

Yes, in a perfect world, bosses would adapt to their people and be good at the “people side” of their job. But in the real world, studies show that less than 30% of leaders use more than one style. Managing up allows you to navigate and influence people who approach work differently than you. Because organizations tend to promote people based on their technical aptitude rather than their managerial acumen, the odds of having a boss who isn’t perfect for you is rather great. Plus, the vast majority of new managers do not receive any managerial training prior to becoming a supervisor—so even though they may be doing the best that they can, their style of managing may not be aligned with how you would like to be managed. Remember: we cannot change other people; all we can do is change how we react and interact with them. Learning to appreciate and adapt to people with different perspectives, priorities, and personalities is a key skill to develop. If nothing else, by managing up, you will learn what kind of manager you want to be and what kind of manager you don’t want to be. The skills you use to manage up are the same skills you will need to manage down.



What are some of the most common bosses people complain about/experience at work, and what are some of your tips to manage up to less than ideal bosses?

One of the most complained about bosses is the “micromanager.” Micromanaging is a common dilemma because it pits two basic neuropsychological needs against each other: autonomy and control. When our need for autonomy clashes with our manager’s need for control—we bristle and label it as micromanaging. Navigating this tension is about building trust. In order to gain trust from a micromanager, we have to provide them with what they crave: information, inclusion, and control. Strategies to consider:


  • Anticipate their needs: The more you can learn about and anticipate your boss’s wants, needs, and expectations and proactively address them, the sooner you can remove the need for them to micromanage.
  • Keep them (overly) informed: Provide regular updates, and status and progress reports before your boss asks for them. This could look like a daily email that lists all your projects and their status, or regularly cc-ing them on emails. Keep them in the loop.
  • Adopt their standards: Micromanagers often want things done a certain way. If this is the case, then align your work to their preferences. Learn what markers of quality your boss wants/needs and deliver on them. Find out what “right the first time” actually means. If your boss hates the oxford comma, then for goodness’ sake, drop the oxford comma. Building trust with them means to instill a sense of confidence that you can and will deliver high quality products—aligned with their standards—each and every time.
  • Assess yourself: If you are the only person being micromanaged, then take a good, hard, honest look at your performance. What are you doing or not doing that is preventing your boss (not any boss—this particular boss) from trusting you?



I don’t want to be seen as a quitter. How long should I try to stick it out with a bad boss (or bad job) before quitting and moving on to my next job?

This is an entirely personal decision and depends on how bad your boss really is, how much you like your job, and the level of learning opportunities in front of you. If you have a difficult boss, try to grit it out for a bit. Be willing to adapt your style to align with your boss. Try different strategies to build a strong relationship. Don’t be one and done. Adapting to someone else’s style does take extra effort—but one that is worth its weight in gold. Being able to work well with peoplewho are different than us is an essential and expansive success accelerator. 

That said, nobody should ever work for a boss that is abusive, tyrannical, unethical, or cruel. Nor should you continue to work for someone who doesn’t value you, or stay in a situation that compromises your health or career. I’m a big fan of knowing when it is time to “grit” or time to quit. Signs that it is time to move on include:

  • you wake up miserable every day and dread going to work
  • your physical and emotional well-being are being damaged
  • you feel unsafe (physically or emotionally) at work
  • your stress level is permeating your entire life
  • you spend more time and energy thinking about office politics or strategizing to survive your boss than you do on your work
  • your self-esteem and self-confidence have plummeted
  • you aren’t learning anything new
  • you’ve tried to make it work, and nothing makes it work


If you decide it is time to move on, be professional about your departure. Provide proper notice and create a transition plan that outlines what projects you will finish before you leave. Make it easy for the next person to pick up where you left off. And, never, ever, under any circumstances bad-mouth your current boss in your job interviews. The person interviewing you doesn’t know you—and if they hear you bad mouth your current boss, they will assume that you are a malcontent and a potential problem for them.  



Is there any advice you wish you received in your first job, or early in your career, that you can share?

There are two things I wish I had known—or believed—early in my career. First, a career is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t be distracted by the “overnight successes.” People who skyrocket to the top right out of college are the exception—not the norm. Building success takes time. It requires a growth mindset—one that is constantly learning and acquiring new skills and experiences. Secondly, don’t worry if you don’t know what your passion or career purpose is yet. While a small percentage of people know their passion right out of the gate, the majority of people spend the first part of their career exploring and uncovering their passion. So, if you don’t know what yours is yet—don’t stress! Just keep trying new things. Eventually, if you try enough stuff you will soon learn what ignites you and what bores you. Keep moving towards the things that make you feel alive and energized!


Good Luck!

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