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How to Manage Up for Success

Working crazy-long hours and being a total rock star at your job aren’t enough to help you climb the corporate ladder. The secret? Learning how to manage your manager. Here’s how.

You work your butt off, and you’d like to be rewarded for the blood, sweat, and tears you put into your job via a promotion and a fatty raise. We get it. But before you march into your manager’s office, know this: While you might be evaluated based on written goals, you will be promoted based on your supervisor’s unwritten goals and needs, says David Dye, a career and life coach in Denver. “If you understand this, you understand the essence of how to manage up. That is the secret to advancing in your career,” he says. To help you get ahead, we asked career coaches from around the country for their tips on how to manage up.

Help Your Co-Workers Get Ahead
Sure, this sounds like something that could backfire. After all, you’re the one gunning for a promotion. But according to Debra Benton, a career coach and author of The CEO Difference: How to Climb, Crawl, and Leap Your Way to the Next Level of Your Career, to move up in a company you have to get pulled up from above and pushed up from below. Helping others do well pushes you up from below, and seeing that you have a positive influence on your peers will get you pulled up from above,” says Benton. “Being a star performer is expected; management wants proof you can make stars out of others. That’s what they need and want at the top.”

Argue with Your Boss
No, this doesn’t mean being confrontational or picking a fight with the person who signs your paychecks. However, pushing back when you disagree with your boss or challenging him to see a situation in a new light has a good chance of impressing him, says Stacia Pierce, a life coach, career expert and the CEO of Ultimate Lifestyle Enterprises based in Orlando. “You want your boss to see you and understand that you have a strong point of view,” says Pierce. “Being able to push back will help your manager see that you are confident enough to fight for the outcome you believe in. In many managers’ eyes, that means you’re ready for a promotion.”

Become a Mind Reader
Here’s the truth: the more you learn how to anticipate what your boss thinks and needs, the better you’ll do. The good news is that learning how to do this is easier than you might think. To start, clue in to what your boss asks of you on a daily basis, as well as when she asks for it, suggests Pierce. “If there are certain things she asks for at certain times, you can prepare them before she requests them.” You can also do things like look at her calendar (or ask her about what’s on her schedule, if you don’t have access) and anticipate how she might need to prep for what’s on her plate. If she’s got a meeting with her boss where she’ll likely have to show numbers, produce a report that might help; if she’s got a phone call with a client, send her a quick e-mail update with news you’ve heard about the company. Even if she doesn’t need the specific info you’re providing, it’ll show her that you’re trying to anticipate her needs and make her look good.

Copy Your Manager’s Communication Style
Is your boss a big fan of e-mails with bullet points? Start sending notes in that format. Does she rarely talk about her personal life at the office? Don’t start your Monday morning meetings by asking her what she did over the weekend. If you clue in to how your boss likes to interact with people—and then imitate her style—it will make your interactions with her succinct and successful, says Pierce. “Pay close attention to how your boss communicates with you and stay in that vein,” says Pierce. “It’ll lead to clear communication that’ll make life easier for both of you.” Bonus: your manager might think your work style is very similar to hers.

Be a Big Ideas Person
Coming up with stellar ideas will help you on number of levels. For starters, you’ll be able to think of solutions to problems. “If you want to succeed, always present a problem along with possible fixes for that problem,” says Alfred Poor, PhD, author of 7 Success Secrets That Every College Student Needs to Know.  “Even if your boss isn’t able to use your idea, at least she’ll know you're not just trying to hand off a problem.” What’s more, thinking big can help you help your boss impress her manager. “I always tell my clients to learn what your supervisor and their supervisor have as their main goals,” says Dye. “What obstacles are in their way? What keeps them up at night? Then, think of ways to address these issues and solve these problems.”

Meghan Rabbitt

Meghan Rabbitt is a freelance writer and editor whose work is published in national magazines and websites, including Women's Health, Runner's World, Redbook,, and

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