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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 18-Aug-06


Friday 18-Aug-06 

Managing managers

Management of people is not just a top-down hierarchical task -- it can go the other way as well. Management includes helping people learn and understand. It means getting them to do the things you want them to do and not do the things that you believe are wrong or damaging. It means transforming situations of conflict into collaborative searching for agreeable solutions.

My wife is a teacher who views fast-trackers and 'career' teachers (who put their careers first) with mixed feelings at best. When their journey includes building real teaching skills, then she is happy to discuss and demonstrate her methods. She has little time for incompetence and even less for arrogance. When those in more senior positions but significantly less experience and skill seek to extend their control by instructing her in primitive methods, she has to bite her lip hard--though she also has a way of biting those who get between her and her teaching. She is not cantankerous, but she does know what works.

Likewise, I am happy to work with managers who are younger than me as long as they do not consider me as 'over the hill' and unable to keep up, and hence ignore or instruct me in the basics. I have practiced and studied business and management more than most people and find the blind wisdom that some manager assume both frustrating and sad. Fortunately, I have also learned about psychology, negotiation, coaching and facilitation, which help me manage the situation.

It is not all easy and sometimes I wonder at senior stupidity. Myopic and selfish decision-making by people who are paid well to take a broader view can be agonizingly damaging for the organization and its frustrated populace.

Managing upwards first means getting inside the head of those in more senior positions, and not just your immediate boss. Seek to understand both the personal and professional forces acting on them, the personal tensions that these forces create and how they respond to these tensions.

People act to reduce the tensions that they feel, usually starting with the biggest and the most uncomfortable, and they do this by using the power that they have. One form of power that managers have is the authority vested in that position to command people and allocate or refuse resources as they see fit.

What is often forgotten is that you, too, have significant power. You have specalist and unique skills and knowledge. You have social connections and can lead the opinions of others. You also have the power of compliance and active support.

Working with your managers is not so much doing what you are told but rather a dynamic and ongoing exchange. If you can show a concerned interest in their needs and goals, then they will increasingly listen to your ideas. Depending on their status and esteem needs, this process may require significant subtlety, but when they realize that you are on their side, they will trust you more.

It needs to be a patient game. When you have earned their trust, then they will listen more. And when they listen with trust, they will accept your ideas, explanations and refusals as you show them better ways to succeed.

Your comments

If one of my manager didn't keep his assignments date and always delay my requirements from him, what should I do to solve this problem?


-- Mohamed Fandies

Dave replies:
When managers do not practice what they preach and do not keep their promises, sometimes the best way to manage this is to treat it as any other risk, identifying mitigating actions and preparing contingencies. A good idea often is to ensure everything is documented, for example by getting his/her comments and changes on email. If you are later held to account, you can then highlight the real cause.

True what Dave says, you must set clear, measurable and achievable goals.

Your dealings with such a manager must be based on facts

Don't be emotional when handling the situation

Offer (documented) support

Insubordinate employees know how to cover their tracks

-- Noel

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