We’ve all heard the golden rule at least once in our lives: Treat others the way you want to be treated. When it comes to friends and family, this might be intuitive. But in the workplace, sometimes hierarchies and protocols (and, frankly, competition) get in the way of kindness. But the golden rule can play an important role in creating strong teams and enhancing engagement. And it can even transform your relationship with your boss.
To be an effective employee, it’s important to have interactions with your managers, supervisors, and other executives that are built on mutual respect above all else. Everyone in the workplace should be aware of one another’s needs and preferred work styles. “Managing up” means learning about your boss’s preferred communication style, work ethic, and expectations, all while becoming aware of your own and making them known.
If you’re ready to begin managing up and improving your workplace relationships, here are three ways to get started:
1. Set clear limits.
Knowing your boundaries and effectively articulating them so that others know, too, is vital in life and in work. While it might feel intimidating to say “no” to your manager, you can re-frame your limits so that they don’t feel abrupt or disrespectful. For example, if you’re bothered that your manager is reaching out to you after work hours, setting a boundary could look like making it clear that you’re not online after work is over. You could say, “I’ll get right on it, first thing in the morning,” or you could simply reply to the email or return the call the next day.
Kim Villeneuve, co-founder of bluSPARC and advocate for coaching and leadership development, explains, “If your boss crosses your boundary by bullying or being disrespectful, intimidating, or unethical, it’s time to find your way to a new position where you can thrive.” Being a highly effective, high-achieving employee doesn’t require devoting every hour of your life to your employer’s needs. No job is worth compromising your integrity or dealing with the compounded stress of psychological abuse.
2. Make yourself indispensable.
To do your job effectively and create a symbiotic relationship with your boss, it’s important to make yourself indispensable. (But see #1 above: this doesn’t mean you’re on call 24/7.) Becoming indispensable is especially easy to achieve if you have a disorganized or uncommunicative boss. Your expertise and reliability will garner respect and can, in turn, help you earn the authority to make more decisions.
To make yourself indispensable, study your boss or manager. What makes them tick? What do they value in the workplace? Once you’ve established the basics, you’ll be able to assert yourself when necessary to help see a plan through or perform necessary duties to meet a specific goal. The more you study the executives above you, the better you can perform your job, and the faster you can climb the ladder.
3. Develop a sense of agency.
Agency refers to your ability to take responsibility and exert control over your actions. This is especially true when considering potential pitfalls or consequences. In the workplace, having agency involves not letting others’ opinions get in the way of your self-worth or your ability to perform your job to the best of your abilities while at the same time developing a mindset of self-evaluation that is deeply rooted in reality.
Dr. Villeneuve suggests meeting your shortcomings head-on with a consultative approach. This means going to your boss first after a perceived failure rather than waiting for them to come to you. If you failed to complete a report, tell your boss why. Was it because you needed additional help or resources? Tell your boss what resources you need in order to do your job correctly so they can help you do your best work and meet business goals. By going to your boss first, you’re taking ownership of the problem and exhibiting responsibility, even if it wasn’t all your fault.
Managing up is a necessary aspect of working in the modern age. Doing so will allow you to perform your job better and create beneficial relationships with executives and others in leadership positions. It also benefits your personal brand, broadcasting a multitude of impressive traits to others while helping you become the person everyone wants on their team.