Managing up: For Engineers who want to get ahead in their careers

From the Career Conversations Series with Jean, Founder of Exaltitude
November 29, 2022
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Do you feel like you're constantly walking on eggshells around your manager? Like you never know what mood they will be in, and one wrong move could get you fired? You're not alone. Many engineers feel that they're stuck with bad bosses, but the truth is, there's no need to be scared of your manager - as long as you know how to manage up. Today, I will show you how to build trust with your manager, communicate effectively, and set expectations.

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What is managing up?

Managing up is the act of taking proactive steps to build a positive relationship with your boss. It's about understanding their needs and motivations and then helping them - even if it's not directly related to your job.

As an engineer, you may think that managing up is not part of your job description. But the truth is, it can incredibly benefit your career development and job satisfaction. When you have a great working relationship with your manager, they will be more likely to trust and support you, which can lead to opportunities for advancement.

The Benefits of Managing Up

Managing up doesn't mean that you're a pushover or that you're always going to agree with your boss - it just means that you're trying to create a mutually respectful and beneficial partnership.

There are plenty of benefits to managing up, including:

1. improved communication

2. increased trust

3. better working relationships

4. more opportunities for career development

5. less stress

Making your manager's job easier

Nobody aspires to be a bad manager. No matter how much they may act like they have everything under control, your boss is probably just as stressed out as you are. They're worried about meeting deadlines, keeping their team happy, managing their relationship with their own boss, and making sure that the work gets done - so anything you can do to help them out is going to be appreciated.

This is especially important when working with a new manager. Your manager may not have experience doing performance reviews or managing reports, so it's up to you to help them out.

Here are a few ways to make your boss's job easier:

1. Be proactive

Don't wait for your manager to tell you what to do - take the initiative and figure out what needs to be done. If you see a problem, come up with a solution. If there's a task that you know how to do, do it. The more proactive you are, the less your manager will have to micromanage you.

2. Keep them updated

Don't surprise your manager - keep them in the loop on your projects and tasks, and let them know if anything changes. This way, they can trust that you're on top of things, and they won't have to waste time checking in on you all the time. If anything, it's better to over-communicate than to under-communicate. You may have a different communication style from your manager, so learn your boss's style.

3. Be positive

No one wants to work with a Negative Nancy. Be positive, even if things aren't going perfectly. This doesn't mean that you should ignore problems - just try to focus on the solution rather than dwelling on the problem itself.

How to Build Trust with Your manager

If you want to improve at managing, the first step is buildingd trust with your boss. Trust is essential for any relationship, but it's crucial in the employer-employee relationship. After all, your boss is the one who has the power to hire, fire, promote, or demote you.

So how can you build trust with your boss?

Be reliable and meet deadlines.

If you say you're going to do something, do it. It's that simple. If you cannot deliver on time, bring up the situation as soon as possible.

Be honest.

Everyone makes mistakes. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Keep people in the loop and let them know what's going on. Don't avoid bad news.

Your boss is only human, and there will be times when they make mistakes. If you have a problem with something your manager has done, talk about it. Your manager probably has a million things going on, and they might not even realize they did something that bothered you.

Get to know them as a person

Remember, no one aspires to be a difficult boss. Talk to them about their hobbies, families, interests, and pet peeves. Build a shared understanding of each other and learn what makes your boss tick.

Learn your boss's work style and communication style to build rapport. The more you know about them as a person, the easier it will be to build trust.

Setting Expectations with Your Manager

Have regular 1:1s, be clear about your goals and objectives, and discuss your concerns to set expectations with your manager.

Depending on your manager's availability and how many direct reports they have, schedule bi-weekly or monthly 1:1s. The cadence of your 1:1 may depend on your company culture.

Email Template to request a 1:1

If you don't have an ongoing meeting, suggest one to your boss. If your boss has an executive assistant, loop them in.

Here is a template you can use.

Subject: Scheduling our 1:1 meetings

Hi [name of manager],

I’d like to set up a recurring 1:1 meeting for us to get together at the same time each week.

Here are some time slots that work for me. Let me know which time you prefer or suggest alternative times if none of these work for you.

• [insert day] at [insert time]

• [insert day] at [insert time]

• [insert day] at [insert time]

Looking forward to our discussions!


[Your name]

Preparing for your first 1:1

For your first 1:1, consider asking these questions when managing up:

  • What is going well or not going well?
  • What are my professional goals? Where do I want to go in the next few years?
  • What kind of projects are you most excited to work on?
  • What can I do to help the manager/the team?

These 1:1s will not only help you stay on track, but they'll also allow you to build a productive working relationship with your boss.

What do discuss in a 1:1

Once you start meeting regularly, you should discuss your progress, any obstacles you face, and anything relevant to your work. Spend time on goal setting or asking key questions. This is also a good time to ask for feedback from your boss.

Be clear about your goals and objectives

Make sure that they align with your manager's goals and objectives. This will make it easier for you to get buy-in from your manager when you need it.

Be vulnerable

Talk about your concerns to your manager as soon as possible–This includes workload, deadlines, etc. The sooner you talk about your circumstances, the sooner your manager can help you. It's okay to be vulnerable.

Ask for help

If you're feeling overwhelmed or stuck on a project, ask for help from your manager. They can't read your mind, so you need to be direct about what you need. Don't wait for your manager to come to you with opportunities or discuss issues.

1:1 Template

Here is a template you can use for your 1:1:

  • What have been the highs and lows of your past week?
  • What are the accomplishments?
  • What are the WIP items?
  • Is there anything blocking you?

Creating a Positive Relationship with Your Manager

The best way to create a win-win working relationship with your manager is to be clear about what you want and need from the working relationship and your career development.

Imagine you're a basketball or [insert your favorite sport] star, and your manager is your coach. They can help you win, but they can only do that if you're willing to take their support and direction. If you and your team win, your manager wins. Work with your manager like you're in it together.

Some final tips:

  • Be honest with your manager. If you're feeling stressed or overwhelmed, let them know.
  • Be proactive and take the initiative. Your manager will appreciate it if you're always thinking one step ahead.
  • Communicate – the more you communicate with your manager, the better they can help you.
  • Treat your manager like a fellow human being. Be curious about your manager. The more you know about your manager, the easier it will be to build a good relationship with them.
  • Work with your manager, not against them. You're on the same team.

Remember that your success is their success.

When you work together, everyone wins!

If you’re interested in more lessons on building relationships, follow Exaltitude on LinkedIn for upcoming Career Conversation workshops.

Exaltitude newsletter is packed with advice for navigating your engineering career journey successfully. Sign up to stay tuned!

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