LinkedIn | One Thing You Need to Manage Up

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When I think of managing up, I find myself remembering the friendly, but nefarious bunny Boingo in Hoodwinked, a cinematic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Or, of Penguin, Batman’s nemesis in Fox’s television show Gotham, a terrific send-up of David Copperfield’s Uriah Heep.

But very few us who manage up are manipulative, and I suspect none of us wants to be. While I've shared my tips for the squeamish over at Harvard Business Review, below is an interview with Mike Kopelman, Senior Vice President, Investor Relations, Time Warner, Inc., — to date, my best junior employee — on how he manages up.

Whitney: Mike, when you worked for me, I never felt like you were trying to use me as a stepping stone, but you did the work, were willing to engage, even disagree — you fully showed up.

Mike: I always took the approach that my primary job was to make my senior successful. It's not that I wasn't ambitious, but I basically trusted that if I did a good job that you would take care of me. That's obviously a lot more effective when you have a boss who is looking out for your career.

The other part that was helpful is that I always felt a responsibility for the franchise and the team. I describe this to new juniors as “thinking like a senior”. I characterize this as a commitment to excellence/desire to win. We shared this, and a lot of juniors don't see this as their responsibility. It bothers me when our company isn't “winning”. You happen to be a little competitive yourself (okay, more than a little), so I think we spoke each other's language.

When combined with trying to make you successful and your concern for my career, I think we were completely aligned in our goals. And that goes a long way towards a team functioning well.

WJ: I have hypothesized thought that because your mother was a doctor in the military, no less, having a woman as a boss wasn't an issue for you. Thoughts?

MK: In addition to my mom, I also had strong older sisters (a doctor and lawyer) and strong tradition of educated women in my family. That definitely helped. I also remember a Tony Robbins tape that my soccer coach played for us when we were driving to a tournament as a teenager. He talked about adjusting your communication style to fit your audience. I wasn't really conscious of doing it when I worked for you, but having subsequently worked for a male boss, I can see that it's important. I am not sure that it's necessarily a male-female thing as much as realizing everybody has a different process/style. And as the junior, adjusting for those differences can be really important.

WJ: Any tips you'd give people on managing up?

MK: Focus on making your boss successful, take ownership of the product (i.e., think like a senior) and make sure you understand your bosses process and adjust accordingly.

WJ: Now that you have people work for you, what do you like?

There are four core capabilities I look for:
1. Analytical capability,
2. Communication skills
3. Work ethic/commitment to excellence and
4. Interpersonal skills (e.g., can they work on a team).

It's this last one that I think is most appropriate here. I want somebody who is humble enough to not overstep their role but confident enough to step up when needed. So humble confidence is really important.

What are your thoughts? Who's the best person who has ever worked for you? Why were you so happy with their work?

If you liked this post, you can click ‘Follow' above on Linkedin, and you can follow Mike Kopelman on Twitter (@mkopelman) or me (@johnsonwhitney).


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