Managing Up While Managing Down: The Space In Between

Managing in the Space In Between

Managing in the Space In Between

“Management is efficiency in climbing the ladder of success; leadership determines whether the ladder is leaning against the right wall.”

Stephen Covey

The Space In Between

Emerging leaders today are caught between the employees they manage and the managers who manage them.  Being adept and managing up and managing down is a skill that requires acumen, finesse and confidence.  When you think of the best leaders you know what qualities do you attribute to them?  What are some of their behaviors and actions that set them apart?  Now ask yourself the same questions about the worst leaders you have worked for.  In this gap is where you will navigate your own leadership style.

Managing Up

Many people focus on managing up because they believe it is a short cut to faster career advancement.  But good senior management can usually recognize people who can only “manage up, not down” and who may not understand the value of managing down well. Both are essential to your career success.

Here are essential tips on managing up:

  • Keep your manager informed of all the key things she needs to know.  Your manager does not want surprises that leave her vulnerable.  Keep your manager informed of changes that have significant impact or pro-actively share information that pertains to your manager’s presentations or reports to their manager.
  • Be proactive.  Bring your manager ideas, thoughts, or suggestions for any ongoing projects or creative ideas you may have.  If your manager likes an idea, offer to spearhead it.
  • Talk positively about your manager to other people.  Stress positive things about him or what it’s like to work for him. Never speak badly about your manager – or anyone else.  Gossip is a huge no-no.
  • When you bring your manager problems, always have a recommended solution.  It may not be the perfect answer, but it takes the onus off him to solve it and gives him a starting point to build on.  It also demonstrates your critical thinking skills and initiative.
  • Manage your emotions.  State your needs and ideas succinctly and clearly. Get to the point then explain if needed. Make clear requests without drama.
  • Demonstrate dependability and reliability.  Be the person who initiates a new project or handles a difficult situation.  Become the #2 and develop your own #2.
  • Develop your influencing skills.  As you move forward in your career you need to develop relationships and influencing skills to sell your ideas or projects.  Your manager will notice and so will others.

Managing Down

One of the key predictors for success is your ability to develop positive relationships with your employees; relationships that empower them to bring their best thinking and ideas to work.  The hallmark of an effective manager is the ability to accomplish results through others.

Here are some fundamental points to managing down effectively.

  • Communicate.  Communicate.  Communicate.  The single most common complaint people have about their managers is that they don’t tell them what’s going on or that they withhold information.  This makes them feel insignificant and unimportant. Don’t be that kind of manager.  Freely share information that supports your employees’ ability to succeed in their work.
  • Be firm and straightforward, but fair.  It’s important to be direct with people to minimize miscommunication.  Using ambiguity to spare someone’s feelings may be an easy path to take, but it’s the wrong one.  State your performance standards and use that as an explicit measure.
  • Learn to give constructive feedback. Giving feedback is a necessary management skill. Without constructive feedback people can’t change. They need to know what they are doing, the impact of their behavior on others, how to change it and why it matters.
  • Listen.  Make the time to ask people what they think and then really consider their ideas.  This becomes a type of mentoring for junior people and you’ll be delighted to get solutions that might have eluded you.
  • Catch them doing something positive!  Praise, thanks and giving visibility and credit to employees goes a long way to inspiring them to do their best work and to stay engaged.  Remember to praise specific actions, behaviors and results so your employees understand clearly what you expect.
  • Ask your employees to come to you with recommended solutions to problems.  It allows them to develop their critical thinking skills and teaches them to be creative in their approach to problem solving.
  • Be available and approachable.  If they don’t come to you periodically you should initiate a dialogue with them.  Make sure to set boundaries however so you can still do your own work.
  • Don’t micromanage.  Instead of controlling, set explicit expectations, state and uphold performance standards and make sure they know the impact of these standards.  When employees understand the purpose they begin making decisions to support that purpose. Give them responsibility and autonomy.  Also let them know that you’re there as a “safety net” if they need you.
  • Support mistakes.  Mistakes are necessary and inevitable. If they are made in an attempt to be better, enhance or create, then support, analyze, learn and move on. 

What do you need to develop to effectively manage up?

·       SELF KNOWLEDGE.  Know what your skills, talents, limitations and vision for yourself are.

·       ROLE AND IMPACT. Be clear on your role and the impact of your role on the organization.

·       VISION. Articulate a vision for yourself and for your team and your organization.

·       POTENTIAL. Become adept and sharing your contributions to the future of the organization.

·       RELATIONSHIPS. Develop strategic relationships in the organization and industry that you can rely on when you want to sell an idea or take a risk.

·       PRESENCE.  Learn to walk confidently into a room and engage in a conversation. It’s a way of being that taps into the flow and energy of the people and situation so that others feel safe and valued.

What do you need to develop to effectively manage down?

·       SKILLS - This is a prime time to develop your management and leadership skills. Skills such as communication, conflict, feedback, coaching, EQ, delegating skills and more are the fundamentals of a good manager and a great leader.

·       SELF KNOWLEDGE – Identify what you do well, not so well, and what matters to you.  Assess your work style, communication style, and relationship abilities.  Use a professional coach that can help you develop the self-awareness and self-management skills required at the leadership level.

·       PARADOX - Get yourself ready for more authority, complexity and ambiguity. Learn how to engage leadership paradoxes. You will often be faced with two things that seem to be in opposition of each other.  Cultivating a holistic and systems perspective will enable you to hold opposites as inclusive instead of mutually exclusive.

·       RESILIENCY – Focus on your personal resiliency and that strength will be reflected in organizational resiliency. Maintain your well being, physically, spiritually, emotionally and mentally.  This should become a foundational way of being so you can sustain your energy during difficult times, so your employees will trust you and so that you can work at your optimal level.


There is rich ground in the space in between.  Developing your skills, your self-awareness and articulating your value to the organization will showcase your contributions to your organization and position you for leadership positions. Do the work in this phase of your career and your investment will prove priceless.


Get ready to Rock Your Career and Become the Leader You Were Meant to Be. Register for a comprehensive five module eighteen lesson online course that will build your confidence, teach you how to become more strategic and influential and define your authentic leadership style.  For details CLICK HERE

©  Alicia M. Rodriguez, Sophia Associates, Inc.