Participants in Zoomly’s workshops often hang back to ask me questions at the end, and I feel privileged to be asked. The ‘How to manage upwards’ session is typical.
I’ll always do what I can to help. Yet I’m acutely aware that I don’t work there and I’m not their manager. But I try to help someone see the situation more clearly so they can decide for themselves what action to take.
The procrastinating boss takes a starring role in these questions; so here are some of the thought-starters participants say have helped them to manage upwards, and I hope they help you if you’ve got a boss who won’t – or can’t – decide.
The first step is to get clear on how their procrastination shows up: this will give you vital clues as to what will work – and what won’t.
Do they need ALL the details?
Some people really can’t make a decision unless they’ve got all the details at their fingertips. Indeed, they may not function too well socially unless they’ve got all the details to hand (you’ve probably been on holiday with a friend like this). If this craving for detail seems odd to you, it may be that your natural tendency is to take the ‘big picture’ view. Nothing wrong with that – there will be times when it’s very handy. However, it may not be what’s needed every time; be aware that not everyone works that way and your boss is one of them.
Tip: ask your boss exactly what they need to weigh up the decision: a spreadsheet, a host of links and references, etc. Then provide it.
Do they want options?
Put yourself in your boss’s shoes: how would you feel if a team member presented you with one course of action? Some managers might be pleased at your conviction and certainty. But others might feel a little hemmed in. If you meet resistance to your ‘only way to go’ it’s probably a signal your boss prefers to weigh up different options.
Tip: show you’ve considered alternatives and now need their input. By all means have a point of view on which option you think best but be sure to listen to their response and reasoning.
Do they need A Plan?
If you’re someone who fizzes with ideas all the time, this could be frustrating for you – but just take your boss’s point of view for a minute. Your manager may think you’ve jumped the gun a bit, or maybe not thought things through enough. It could be they can’t see how your suggestion would work in practice.
Tip: work out the steps in sequence. Visualise them in some way – a diagram, Gantt chart or even a series of Post-It notes will be better than nothing. If there’s a preferred procedure where you work – ‘how we do things round here’ – map that out before discussing with your boss.
Do they defer decisions?
Your manager may be ‘busy right now’ or ‘will take a look at it later’ – and maybe that’s true. Who isn’t ‘crazy busy’ now? But if this kind of response to requests – for decisions, guidance, go-ahead – is typical it can bedevil teams’ progress and be demotivating. It may also cost lost opportunities. Your boss may genuinely have other priorities, be overwhelmed or reluctant to take a risk.
Tip: don’t get heavy about it. Use ‘we’ not ‘you’ and on no account put the blame on them (a real no-no for managing upwards). Check with your manager if there’s anything else they need to make a decision. Ask when they’ll be able to get back to you and confirm that. If there’s a genuine downside to deferring the decision, point this out to your manager as clearly (and courteously) as you can. There may be a penalty to pay or a risk of missing deadlines but stick with the facts rather than adding to the pressure. Build in buffer time.
You may find this post useful: Help! My boss is a micro-manager
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