Ep 42: Managing Up


In this episode, Bridgette and Irvine focus on the critical skill of managing upwards. They discuss why it is essential to our career success and share strategies for improving our relationships with those above us in the organizational chart, whether that is a boss, a board or anyone else whom we might report to or be accountable to.



Don’t forget to check out Irvine’s You Tube channel with new videos every Wednesday on emotional intelligence, resilience, and leadership.

Check out Irvine’s new book Leadership Lessons From The Pub.

Check out Bridgette’s book which she co-authored with Bod Duggan  Resilient Leadership 2.0.

And as always, don’t forget about all the mind-blowing free resources some of which are mentioned in each episode. 


Bridgette Theurer [00:00:03]:


Hello, everybody, and welcome to the resilient leadership podcast where everything we talk about is aimed at helping you to lead with a greater sense of calm, clarity and conviction, even in the midst of disruptive change, My name is Bridgette Theurer, and as always, I’m joined by the wonderful Irvine Nugent. And Irvine, you have been a road warrior yet again So say hello to folks and tell them a little bit about your recent adventure.


Irvine Nugent [00:00:32]:


Yeah. Hi, everyone. I am just coming off a an amazing trip to Dubai. I had some work over there with 2 different groups of people, which went really well. I endured the beautiful summer in Dubai in August, which reached a 127, with humidity as well. but the air conditioning, thankfully, is plentiful. Not only were the 2 groups wonderful, but I also got a a chance to see some of the sites. I There’s an amazing museum called the Museum of Tomorrow there, which is just a spectacular architecture. So I got lost in there in a good way And, it was wonderful. I spent a few hours and there was very provocative in places and I just got you thinking about the future. So and there was this amazing meditation room in there of sound and light and and it was very relaxing. I almost fell asleep, but it was so relaxing. I’ve had a great time. So I’m I’m happy to be back in the DC area for a cool nineties today.


Bridgette Theurer [00:01:32]:


Mhmm. That is like that’s like fall weather to you.


Irvine Nugent [00:01:35]:


I know totally. I’ll never complain again.


Bridgette Theurer [00:01:39]:


Well, welcome back.


Irvine Nugent [00:01:41]:


Well, thank you so much. so. Well, Bridgette, why don’t you share with our listeners a little more about our topic today?


Bridgette Theurer [00:01:48]:


Yeah. So this is a good one, not that they are All good, but this one is something that I know you and I have talked about so many times in our coaching sessions. It’s about managing up. Really, what we’re gonna be focusing on is, you know, how do we ensure that one of the most important relationships systems we have at work works for us. And that’s the relationship with our boss or immediate manager. Or for that matter, anybody above us in the organizational chart Right? You know, my experience, has been that this relationship has a great deal to do with not only our success, not only our career mobility, but also just our well-being. because I think Is there anything more stressful than being completely out of step with your own manager?


Irvine Nugent [00:02:39]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:02:39]:


I think that’s pretty hard. And it reminds me of somebody that I worked with a few years ago who was really not in sync with with his manager or the rest of his C suite in the organization. And and it was pretty frustrating. And I think what happened is that frustration led him to make some of the common mistakes that we’re gonna talk about. They’re easy to do. But before we get into that, I always like to ask you about your own experience as a leader. And, like, I don’t know. Did you find managing up challenging easy or somewhere in between?


Irvine Nugent [00:03:16]:


You know, it’s a great question. I think there was a few phases. I think one of the things initially that I found very difficult about managing up was really being confident in that level of people. You know, I I was a new leader And while I had a great warmth with people I was supervising, I created a great dynamic, I found at times being at a board meeting very intimidating. And I found I was a little bit mousy and I didn’t speak up And I I really had to come into my own, especially at that level. So I think one of the things and I’ve actually in coaching others encountered this as well. of people just really being almost having a different personality and being a much less assertive and and direct and and a little quiet and meek. which is not surprising. Yeah. And I think the other area for me that was a real learning lesson was, communication that communication upwards is a little bit different and that at times, it has to be more direct and at times, you know, I was going into these big explanations, and I could just see that people were like, I don’t want the explanations. Just get to the point. You know? So I had to change even that how I communicated and really I think we’ll get into this in the episode is, you know, how how do you communicate? And it is different. So not to assume that communication’s always the same.


Bridgette Theurer [00:04:42]:


Oh, yeah. That I totally relate to. And your first response about just learning to feel more confident at that level. You know, whatever that level is, it’s a level above you. Yes. So very, very interesting. Yeah. Okay. So maybe then a good place to start is really with what are some of those mistakes, those traps that we all can fall into? because, you know, let’s think about it. When you go to school, there’s not a class that I’m aware of that everybody gets on managing up. No. You know, I mean, maybe if you go to business school, they talk a little bit about it, but, yeah, that’s not the real world. You know? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So let’s share with our listeners some of these and I would invite you the listener to to make this really practical for you to maybe actually think about who is the person? Upwards that you most want to improve your relationship with, and and perhaps it very well is your boss. But it could be your boss’s boss or could be your boss’s peer, right, and have that person in mind while we talk about both the mistakes and strategies. Okay. So, Irvine, I wanna start with a couple of strategies, and then I want you to share what you’ve noticed. But the first thing that I think we easily do is we get into a habit of repeatedly venting about our loss to others. Particularly, the relationship is strained. And, you know, we’ve talked about this in other episodes. It’s called a triangle. You know? Yep. when you bring somebody else into a relationship conflict and you talk to them about it. What I think can happen is that with our Boston, we don’t always have other people to talk to. I mean, we don’t have we’re not talking to our boss. Right? So we wanna offload the anxiety. So who do we vent to? could be our spouse could become an every night occasion.


Irvine Nugent [00:06:35]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:06:35]:


It could be a peer that you can get into what what one of my colleagues, Jim Burns, calls a velvet rut where it feels good in the moment to get that anxiety off your chest, kinda cozy but it it forms a rut because oftentimes, the venting doesn’t really lead to new discoveries about what to do. to improve the relationship or to influence more effectively. Right? For that, you need either a coach or you need a resource who can help you sync differently.


Irvine Nugent [00:07:10]:


Yeah. Absolutely.


Bridgette Theurer [00:07:11]:


So so that’s one thing. So be be on the lookout for that tendency because because we all do it. And then I think the other mistake I’ve seen clients make is really expecting our boss to change and trying to change him or her. Right? I mean, isn’t this what we do with our spouses? willing. And anybody else where we kinda wanna will them to be different. Yep. And so we we might try a little manipulation. We might try a little drop Hence. We might I mean, who knows what we try? But we all know that in the day, willing others to change. doesn’t work, and we have to come back painfully and often to the fact that focusing on our own functioning and our own half of the equation is what will get us there. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:08:03]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:08:04]:


Okay. One last mistake, and then I wanna hear what you think, Irvine. And that is if you get frustrated and things aren’t working and you feel like you’ve tried different things, you might kind of — feel a little resigned, and you might find yourself distancing yourself from that manager. Now what does that mean? You could mean emotionally. You kinda shut down in meetings. could mean that you just don’t talk to them as much. You avoid them. Again, understandable because of We’re trying to manage our anxiety and our frustration, our disappointment. And yet it works against us because as we have said many times on this podcast, you cannot influence a system to which you are not connected. Absolutely.


Irvine Nugent [00:08:49]:


Yeah. So


Bridgette Theurer [00:08:49]:


— Yeah. — that to get us started, In Urban, I’m wondering, 1, what do you think of those? Have you seen them, and do you have anything to add in terms of mistakes you’ve seen?


Irvine Nugent [00:08:59]:


So, no, it’s really interesting. Now actually in the midst of a coaching engagement, and it’s been a longer one, but initially, actually, one of the presenting things was this managing up problem for them. And it it kind of goes into the second one about wanting to change your boss because what was happening was they were experiencing the boss as being rather sharp and blunt, and they were personalizing this. and it was, really breaking down the relationship. It was causing a barrier. The the coaching call was like, why can’t they be like Like, why can’t they be softer? Don’t they understand. I mean, this is how you’re supposed to be to manage. Like, when I manage people, you know, I I’m there to open and listen. It’s just when I go, It’s just I’ll say something, and I just feel that they’re being blunt and direct. And so it took a lot to really just you know, almost like I usually grieve over this, you’re not going to get this. This is this is their personality. They’re not being overly rude. It’s just really a style and it just tends to be a little edgy and blunt, and you’re not doing anything wrong. And you just have to give that up and then maybe adapt a little bit and to how to manage. And and it was it was a real struggle, and it was really potentially leading to a communication breakdown.


Bridgette Theurer [00:10:17]:


Very interesting. Yeah. It’s like Wishing and wanting somebody change doesn’t make it so.


Irvine Nugent [00:10:24]:


Absolutely. Yes. And it’s not gonna happen. Yeah. you know, there’s one other thing I’m thinking that perhaps you might wanna throw in the ring here, and that would be and I do this all the time, assuming that no news is, in fact, good use And the problem with that is that that can really work against us because we we get suckered into the thinking that the boss is is just happy, but everything, our behaviors, our performance, we heard nothing. So everything must be good. What if you have a boss who’s conflict avoid I had one early in my career. And so what happens is we we don’t bring these important issues up. They handle situations in certain ways. They may put off some in important conversations, especially if it makes them feel uncomfortable. And then, you know, what happens, performance time comes around. And all of a sudden, you’re reading things and then you’re off guard thinking, why didn’t I hear about this earlier on? And this happens all the time. I think we just have to be aware that not hearing any news isn’t necessarily good news. have you seen that before, Bridgette?


Bridgette Theurer [00:11:26]:


Oh my gosh. Yes. And I think it used to mean something. I think it’s an older management style, right?


Irvine Nugent [00:11:35]:


Yep. Yep.


Bridgette Theurer [00:11:35]:


Give people their jobs and give them their resources and leave them alone. You know? And there’s nothing wrong with that except that usually people need feedback. a lot more. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:11:45]:


Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:11:46]:


So I think it’s a big assumption. I see it all the time, and then people are just so, oh my gosh, thrown off center. when it turns out that no news was didn’t mean good news. Right? Yeah. Yeah. Very good.


Irvine Nugent [00:11:59]:


And I think, you know, another part of this reality is that we’ve talked about this as well many, many episodes, and that is just the reality of how busy people are and the reality of change. And so sometimes managers may wanna say something with you. And then 4 things come up before they’re able to do that. And then 3 weeks later, it’s too late. So, you know, don’t assume, you know, it could be just the busyness has got in the way, and they haven’t had a chance to even share with you something they’d wanted say?


Bridgette Theurer [00:12:26]:


Yeah. That’s such a good point. I mean, gosh, people are so challenged these days and live in such a distracted world. For sure, that could be a key reason.


Irvine Nugent [00:12:36]:


Mhmm. Yeah. So these are all the things that don’t work. Let’s move on now and maybe point out what are some strategies that can really help us have a much more productive and positive relationship with our boss.


Bridgette Theurer [00:12:50]:


Well, I’m gonna start with what I think Irvine is the most fundamental strategy because without this, none of the other ones work, and that is Take responsibility for the quality of your relationship with your manager. Own it. Own it. It is so tempting to lay it at their feet. After all, they’re your manager. They’re supposed to manage you. And The truth of the matter is if we want a great relationship or if we want a better relationship, we have to see that as part of our job. And in fact, it is. When you take a job in an organization, typically, you have to manage in three directions upwards with your boss, sideways with your peers, downward with any employees that you may supervise. That is part of your job. and sometimes we wish it worked so. So that’s number 1. Number 2, I think I would say you kinda hinted at this is that adjust and adapt to your manager’s communication preferences. Right? You don’t have to twist yourself into being a different person, but you certainly can make some adjustments to what they do what they prefer, how things work for them. Okay. Here’s a story. When I was first at a school, I was about a year into my first corporate job. And my favorite manager hired me left, and she left me with a really difficult manager. And I was like, oh, no, you know, And I was in the world of training and development, and he was a finance guy. I may have mentioned this before, but anyways, I’m just we don’t speak the same language. Okay? And so here’s what would happen. I go into his office to tell him something or ask him something. He’d be at his desk. I can still see it to the day, and, you know, this is decades ago. And he had to have a pen in hand. He’d be writing, and he would not look up at me. And I would say, hey, Bob. At And before I could say anything, he would say 10 words or less like a telegram. And I’d be like, you know, Okay. I’m not kidding. It’s what he said every time I went in there until I became so good at bottomlining it. He didn’t need to remind me anymore. I’m indebted to him to this day because I feel like he taught me that essential skill. Alright. So how does your manager prefer to be communicated with. Do they like texts? Do they like Slack? Do they like email? So they want you to pick up the phone. Do they want a lot of explanation or hardly any at all? How do they like to be kept in the loop often? You know, do you need to update them frequently, or do they want you to leave them alone unless the thing catches on fire? So whatever the answers are to that, You adjust as opposed to expecting them to judge. So let me just pause there for a minute, Irvine. I have one other thought to share, but did those two things resonate with you?


Irvine Nugent [00:15:47]:


Oh, absolutely. Yeah. Especially that second one. And, you know, what highlighted that for me was actually a person I was supervising. who managed up so well. They were a new COO. They came to me and they actually said this. They said to me, if I was to communicate with you, what is your and we had a great and no one had ever asked me that before. And it actually made me think as well. You know, sometimes we assume that people always know. And it’s it’s really a reflective exercise with how do I wanna be communicating with? You know, and for me, You know, if you send me a massive email, it just gives me stress. I can’t deal with large emails because writing long emails for me takes a lot of time. I much prefer a little verbal summary. And then I was able to say that to them. I said, yeah. They then followed up that conversation about 3 months later, and they said, kind of have another conversation. Is the communication working well? Amazing. I just thought they modeled it so well. For me, you know, as I moved on, that became a model as well. And it’s just it’s that clarity out there that really helps in that relationship.


Bridgette Theurer [00:16:55]:


Okay. So this was somebody who reported to you. Did I get that?


Irvine Nugent [00:16:58]:


Correct. Yes.


Bridgette Theurer [00:17:00]:


They were —


Irvine Nugent [00:17:01]:


They were managing up so well. Yeah.


Bridgette Theurer [00:17:03]:


That is really impressive. Yeah. Okay. So let me share one other and then, Irvine, maybe you have a couple things to add to this. And this is a tricky one, but it’s about communicating a need for change without alienating. your audience without alienating your boss. So we already said you can’t change your boss, but that doesn’t mean you should never make suggestions about change whether it’s in processes or in the relationship itself. Right? You just have to be strategic and you have to be thoughtful about it. So an example. Somebody that I was working with said, and and I wasn’t coaching her. She was in a team. So and she she shared this example I thought was so good, which was that the team manager had set an 8 AM Monday morning Status check-in meeting with the team, and everybody hated it. Why? Because who wants to start Monday morning with an 8 AM call because it means Sunday night, you have to work to get ready. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:18:07]:




Bridgette Theurer [00:18:08]:


People resented it. People moaned about it to one another, but did anybody bring it up to the boss? Not for a while until one race said, you know, I think there’s enough trust here that I might ask if I can make a suggestion. So she did. She said, would you be open to a suggestion about our meeting schedule? And her boss said, yes. And then she said, what if We moved the meeting, or would you be open to moving the meeting to Monday afternoon or Tuesday morning, and here’s why. I think, you know, you said you’re not sensing the level of engagement and preparedness you want. And I think part of the reason may be where it is on the calendar. Yeah. maybe she made the change, but it was all in how she did it the timing and so forth. Right? So — Yeah. — don’t you think that’s a pretty nuanced skill?


Irvine Nugent [00:18:59]:


Absolutely. Yes. And it’s very subtle, but so incredibly important. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. When I think about this, there’s a few things that come to mind One is a little nuance from from what we’ve been saying before, but that is managing expectations well. I think at times, And we’ve talked about this before. There’s sometimes there are role confusions. So I think the greater clarity we have In what is our boss’s expectation of what we do, what is our role, and how should we exercise that role? And, really, you know, that needs a conversation. Yeah. And if you haven’t had that conversation, it’s important. And, you know, I I work now with a few organizations. And this one organization, it comes to mind, it is it it almost gives it creates dizziness at how rapidly they are changing. They are growing. These expect conversations are not one and done.


Bridgette Theurer [00:19:50]:




Irvine Nugent [00:19:51]:


They need to happen a few times. And so, you know, I remember a few clients from this organization were telling me it’s every 6 months, it’s like a new organization. And that requires a little more conversation around now. What’s my role? things have changed. Is there anything in the expectation that’s changed? Because that can be really helpful as well. So just, you know, so it’s these conversations sometimes are not one and done conversations as the organization grows or maybe it changes in a certain way. We also have to have another conversation just to to build in the change that’s happened.


Bridgette Theurer [00:20:23]:


Oh, that is a really important point. Yeah. What else?


Irvine Nugent [00:20:27]:


I also think that it’s important not to be the person that’s always bringing only problems to the boss. And that is, have we been proactive and thought out some solutions? I think at times that can be the greatest gift we offer is, you know, having a conversation and saying, look, this I’ve encountered this problem or this problem come. However, I’ve done some thinking and maybe here’s 2 options we could choose or here’s an option we should try because What happens, of course, is it’s moving the conversation along. And I think the bosses love that. They love that when whenever these issues that come up of the beginnings of a solution and the beginnings of those conversations. The final thing, of course, is feedback and make it easy for your boss to give you feedback. We talked to earlier about sometimes, you know, it’s busyness or or maybe it’s conflict diversion or whatever and and the feedback doesn’t happens. And, you know, very often, we just have to make it easy. So so ask, you know, have the feedback conversation. You know, how would you like to give feedback? Can we create maybe a few minutes every now and again to to give me feedback. Maybe it’s at the end of a project. Would you like to give me feedback or whatever? And then also Be aware of perhaps your tendency to over seek feedback. Sometimes when we are very anxious, One of the soothing can be like hearing the words. You’re doing a great job. You’re doing a great job. It’s like a little massage. You’re doing a great job. So just be aware as well. but that are you over seeking some feedback to compensate for this anxiety that you’re feeling?


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:01]:


Yeah. And then in which case your boss might distance from you. Right?


Irvine Nugent [00:22:05]:


Absolutely. Absolutely.


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:06]:


Yeah. I’m more like an eager, you know, puppy going, wait. Wait.


Irvine Nugent [00:22:10]:


Absolutely. It’s just starting when it keeps going. Totally.


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:13]:


You know, that thing about being proactive with solutions. I mean, one thing I wanna say about that is, occasionally, I’ve had people say to me, well, what if I don’t have any solutions? Like, I can see the problem, but I’m missing a whole perspective on it. Do I not go to my boss? Because I’m just laying problem, you know, at her feet. And I say, no. I mean, go to your boss, but say, be transparent. I’ve been really trying to think about a way to solve for this, but I recognize that you have a bird’s eye view of things where I have maybe a worm’s eye view. Right? And they’ll still appreciate that because it’s still proactive.


Irvine Nugent [00:22:51]:


Yep. Love that. Love that. So, Bridgette, we always try to end with a core Have you anything in mind for managing up in a core practice?


Bridgette Theurer [00:22:59]:


I do. We’re gonna use the metaphor for this, and it’s about conducting an archaeological dig, so to speak, on your boss or anybody else in the upward domain that you want to influence Right? And so just like an archaeologist gets really curious and goes into an environment that was inhabited by people and and is really wanting to understand this community understand these individuals. Right? They don’t go in judging them. They go in curious and open. So we have to bring a curious mindset first and foremost. And that can be hard if we do have friction there, but it’s essential. And so We’re gonna suggest 5 questions for this archaeological dig and invite you to think about it, but also if you really want to get somewhere with this, I think you have to, like, sit down with a cup of coffee or maybe a drink and a pen and write some notes down about this. But here are Here are the questions to excavate new knowledge about your boss. Right? Number 1, what is your boss’s biggest pet peeve? Maybe you know it. Maybe you don’t. Maybe other people know it, but they got one, and they got one that really ticks them off. What do we truly care about most? Really deeply personally and professionally. What are their vulnerabilities and strengths? The strengths might be harder to see if you’re having friction. The vulnerabilities might be easier. Question number 4, what wakes them up at 3 AM? Because whatever is waking them up, is their key source of stress and anxiety? And, of course, the answer to that might change over time. So it’s it’s good to ask more than once. And lastly, what is their biggest aspiration? Now, you know, by aspiration, I mean their dream. They’re hope. They’re they’re the thing that they are really seeking most. Whether that be for the organization or for themselves or their family, or what have you? What do you think of those questions, Irvine?


Irvine Nugent [00:25:19]:


Oh, they are such such amazing questions. I mean, you talk about questions that will help you be thoughtful and really think about how you’re operating and how another person’s operating. I think they really get to the core of what we need. Yeah. Really powerful.


Bridgette Theurer [00:25:35]:


Yeah. And, you know, the key to this, as you said, these are not one and done reflections. So we invite our listeners to do this archaeological day. Use the insights that might bubble up to tweak and adapt your side of the relationship and do it again in 6 months or 4 months.


Irvine Nugent [00:25:55]:


See where you are. Yeah. Well, Bridgette, this has been an amazing conversation, really thoughtful. It’s an issue that it keeps coming up time and time again. And, I just love kind of where it’s gone and and pointing out maybe some of the things we do wrong. And then some of the ways to really manage this conversation, and I just love that archaeological dig. what what powerful five questions?


Bridgette Theurer [00:26:16]:


You know what, Erfan? Hanging around you is making me more creative.


Irvine Nugent [00:26:20]:


Oh, there you go. That’s a good thing. Well, thank you. Love it. Listeners, it’s been great having you. Last week, we got a great shout out on LinkedIn, and I just wanna say, yay, to, Doctor Lindsey Judah, who is listening to our podcast as she walks in the morning and she just had a little LinkedIn post to share with others. So I really just encourage you that if You are enjoying the podcast. Share the wealth and and share it with people who may benefit from some of the insights at the topics that we’re sharing. and spread the word to others. Thank you for listening today. Bridgette. Always a delight in the pleasure to be with you.


Bridgette Theurer [00:26:54]:


My pleasure. As always, Irvine, and looking for to the next conversation.


Irvine Nugent [00:26:58]:


Wonderful. Well, we’ll see you around.


Bridgette Theurer [00:27:00]:


Bye folks.


Irvine Nugent [00:27:01]:


Bye now.

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