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Books for those in ministry organizations who desire to take their leadership, teams, governance, and ministry effectiveness to the next level.

30 Aug '12

The art of managing up and valuing those who do

I have an amazing staff and one of the things I appreciate about them the most is that they manage up well. In other words, they are skilled at managing me as their leader and it makes me a far better leader.

Every leader needs those who are willing to manage up. We need those who will help us think through different perspectives, consider different options, rethink old paradigms, and help influence direction. Leaders who are resistant to that are poor leaders. Those who welcome it are better leaders because of those who manage them from the side or from below.

I know that not all leaders are willing to listen to messages from below that they don't want to hear. One of the decisions I made long ago was that I would not work for someone who was not willing to listen to what I had to say - they did not need to agree with me but they did need to be willing to listen. 

I realize that we earn the right to speak and there are appropriate ways of speaking and a right time to speak, but all things being equal, those who will not listen to those who work for them are leaders I choose not to work for.

Why do I value those who manage up? First because they have perspectives that I don't have and see things I may not see. All of us suffer from a limited perspective! Second, because they care about the mission of the organization. If they didn't they would not make the effort. Third, because they generally have my best interests in mind - if they didn't they would not bother. 

The last point is one that leaders ought to consider carefully. Generally staff want their leaders to succeed because if they do, so does the team or organization. When leaders are missing something that they need to know (what staff are thinking for instance) it is a great favor to them to clue them in. 

One of the ways I have approached potentially unpopular feedback to those I have worked for is to say something like this: "I want to share some things I have been mulling on. I don't need you to answer me and how you deal with the information is up to you but I want you to know...." This way I have not put someone in a corner, have not told them what they ought to do about it (and that is not my responsibility) but have shared what I think or know for their benefit and consideration. 

I have always appreciated people who have done this with me. I want the information or feedback they have but I am not always able to share what I  know about a situation with them. Giving me the information without needing a response allows me to process and file it away and become a part of whatever course I take. 

It is when people have an agenda that they are pressing on me that such feedback becomes problematic. Managing up with an agenda that a leader do what they want them to do is going to backfire and is a fast route to diminished rather than greater influence.

Leaders who resist feedback from below or the side often get what they deserve as other staff leave them to their own devices knowing that their lack of knowledge will hurt them but also knowing that they don't want to hear. It generally does not work well for either the organization or the leader.