Does your boss prefer casual interactions? Or are they more formal? What priorities are most important to them—and you? What is their preferred mode of communication?
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Explore This IssueNovember 2017
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Adding to those complications are contextual factors. Are they new to the organization? Is the task at hand extremely urgent? Do they have problems with their boss?
All these things and more play an important role in deciding how to hone your own style of upward management.
3 Observation informs management style: The first step in establishing an upward management style is learning how to observe. Sometimes, small things can make a huge difference. I would advise you not to stalk your supervisors, but taking mental notes about how best to harmonize personalities may be very useful. For example, early in my fellowship, I learned that one of my attending physicians was insistent on sitting in a larger, higher chair when in examining rooms. Of course, that was the chair in front of the computer, so when both of us were in the room, this posed a significant obstacle for my workflow. It frustrated me at first, but I realized there was a simple solution: I just placed the lower, humbler stool in front of the computer, so that he could sit in the bigger chair elsewhere. It was a small victory and a simple solution, but one that allowed both of us to avoid conflict and, in our own ways, win.
4 Regular communication is key: As with all management, communication is really front and center. Clear communication not only improves efficiency and aids in team building, but it also elevates your esteem. Initiating communication makes you the leader (even if you lack the executive position), and demonstrating responsiveness shows commitment and maturity. Moreover, your supervisor may be grateful that you’re doing the valuable task of communicating that they no longer need to.
Of course, the amount and type of communication is informed by your personality styles, underscoring the first three points. For my supervisors, I typically send e-mails before and after meetings to document the agenda and to track the progress of whatever we discussed. My research mentors find this useful, but I can imagine others may find it patronizing. That’s why individualization is so important.
5 Build a long-term relationship: One reason of communication is to foster trust, and ultimately, trust is the currency of effective management. For all the lofty talk about upward management, your supervisor still has power over you. But if you establish trust, you can help ease that sense of vulnerability.