In our ultra-busy world, everyone's in search of a silver bullet. Managing up, the art of influencing those higher up in the organizational structure than yourself, is no different. 

How many of the following "secrets" to managing up have you read about, tried, had recommended to you, or maybe even recommended yourself?

  • Frame asks in terms of company priorities

  • Make superiors look good, and they'll be more apt to listen to you

  • Always be direct and to-the-point as possible

  • Get a champion to advocate for you

  • Don't bring up a problem without thinking of a solution 

  • Write emails with bullet points

  • Under promise and over deliver

The list goes on.

There's nothing inherently wrong with any of these tips; however, there is something wrong with all of them collectively. They're generalizations -- and the person you're trying to manage up to is an individual.

When it comes to managing up, there isn't any single silver bullet or secret that will make you wildly influential to those in power, but there are effective and ineffective ways to approach any individual.

With that in mind, the one secret to managing up is counterintuitively that there isn't one. Just like it's best to tailor your management strategy with direct reports to each individual's work style, preferences, and personality, the same goes for those superior to you. 

Want to effectively manage up with your boss or an executive? Get to know them. To start, ask the following questions, or reflect on them yourself based on behavior you've observed:

  • What are this person's communication style and preferences? 

  • How does this person structure their work?

  • What are this person's values? What's important to them, both at work and personally?

  • What are their strengths and weaknesses?

  • What energizes them and what saps their energy?

Also bear in mind that learning how to manage someone effectively as an individual requires building a relationship -- which takes time. If you have regular catch-ups on the calendar, allot some time to ask the person questions that help you understand them a little deeper each time.

If time is tight, be intentional about observing their behavior in public meetings, or reading between the lines in team-wide emails. What does what they say and how they say it reveal about the answers to the above questions? This detective work might be more informative than you think. 

At the end of the day, people in authority are just people. And exactly like those lower on the org chart can be managed effectively or ineffectively based on who they are, the same goes for the higher-ups. 

Published on: Oct 15, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.