Here’s How the Best Managers Influence Their Supervisors

BY Kathy Crosett
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Some managers spend their time setting goals for and coaching their team members. They’re usually aiming to reach targets set by senior managers. So, what happens when the manager’s manager isn’t setting the right targets? It would be easy to get frustrated in this situation. Another option is to influence your manager using tips suggested by Colonel William “Chip” Horn, who serves as the U.S. Army Chief of Staff Senior Fellow at Northwestern's Kellogg School.

Influence by Example

As managers, we're accustomed to setting a good example for our team members. Good managers don’t start work late. They don’t duck out to the golf course when the weather’s nice, because ‘they deserve it.’ And, they also take pride in their work. 

Doing your best at a specific task when senior leaders fail to do so is one way you can 'manage up.' The philosophy at many companies these days is “our product isn’t as bad as our competitors.” That reasoning gives managers and team members the freedom to fail to do their best. Over time, a company’s reputation will begin to erode. Without calling anyone out about attitude or philosophy, mid-​level managers can create change. They can make sure their part of the product is error-​free and excellent. Gradually, higher level managers will begin to notice that focus on quality and start to change. 

Ask the Right Questions

Generating new product and service ideas is a key way to drive organizational growth. And it's a key task for senior leadership. But, if you’ve got a supervisor who comes to you with half-​developed ideas, you need a strategy to increase your influence and possibly change the outcome. Chances are, you already have a full plate. You don’t want to come across as negative by refusing to look into a new project your supervisor is excited about. However, you do want to influence their thinking so you don’t get stuck spending 40 hours on something that is likely to stall out. 

Questions like “‘What does this support?’  and ‘Where does it fit in our priorities?’” allow you to shift the relationship dynamics, says Horn. These questions show that you’re engaged and that you care about the organization’s goals. They also demonstrate your willingness to be a team player. Best of all, they slow down the process. The new initiative may still go forward, but your supervisor will see you in a new light.

By managing your manager, you maintain some control over your group’s destiny. You also model the kind of behavior and critical thinking ability senior managers look for when it’s time to move a team member up to the next level in the organization.