331: Managing up – How to Manage Your Managers
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In today’s episode of The Startup Chat, Steli and Hiten talk about how to manage your managers.
Managing your manager isn’t just good for you, it’s also good for them as well.
Your manager has difficult decisions to make, deadlines to meet and the objectives of their own they have to fulfill. Helping your manager manage their own workload goes a long way towards supporting them.
Tune in to this week’s episode to hear Steli and Hiten thoughts on why you should manage your manager, how to do it the right way, and they share tips that can help you manage them more effectively.
Time Stamped Show Notes:
00:32 Why this topic was chosen.
02:15 A good example of how to manage your boss.
04:00 Why communication and following up is important.
05:29 Why everybody, regardless of seniority, should be managed.
05:45 Why every team member should develop the ability to manage.
06:22 The importance of being held accountable.
06:42 Why it’s important to focus on the outcome.
07:47 The importance of understanding the difference between good and bad.
09:39 Why having a sense of ownership and responsibility is important
10:50 The right mindset to have and develop.
3 Key Points:
- Ryan is good at using me as a resource when needed.
- I think there is tremendous value in understanding that everybody can be managed
- The ability to manage is such an amazing skill that everybody should develop.
Steli Efti: Hey everybody, this is Steli Efti.
Hiten Shah: And this is Hiten Shah.
Steli Efti: In today’s episode we want to talk about how to manage your managers. Here’s what the topic’s all about and why I care about this, and why I wanted to talk to you about this, Hiten. There’s two things that are happening a lot that I see. One is that, oftentimes when we talk about leadership development within the company; taking somebody that’s junior, that’s an individual contributor, and then because they’re so good at what they do, helping them grow out of an individual contributor role and becoming somebody that is in a leadership role and maybe have people management responsibilities. There is a lot of books and literature and content out there in terms of how to help somebody become a good leader and become a good manager and tools, techniques, all that good stuff. But, that’s always happening kind of after the fact, that you’re being put in a position like this. You’re an individual contributor, nobody really cares about developing you as a leader, and then the moment you are put in that position, now you have this challenge; you have zero skills when it comes to leadership, or very little skills when it comes to management. That’s a problem that I think can be addressed with what I want to talk about, which is cultivating a culture of managing up and teaching people to manage upwards, not just downwards in the org chart. The other thing is that we recently had somebody join the team, big shout out to Ryan Robinson, who some of you might already know, who-
Ryan Robinson: What up!
Steli Efti: What up Ryan? …who, one of my favorite things about him, and he’s not the only one that’s doing this well, and has done this well in the past, but it’s kind of a recent example that prompted this topic top of mind for me. It’s that Ryan, although he is one of the newest members of the company, and although he does not have yet any kind of management title or management expectations in terms of managing people within the organization, and although I am one of the founders of the business and the CEO, and definitely you could consider me his boss (I hired him); he, from day one, from day one, was incredibly good at managing me. What do I mean by managing me? At times, Ryan would need things from me or I would be involved in projects where I would act as an individual contributor and had to give a piece of content, give a piece of advice, get something done, make in introduction, check in on something; he needed something from me to get done within the greater scope of a project that he was responsible for. Ryan, from day one, was just incredible about not living in the framework of thinking, “Well shit, that’s Steli, he’s the fucking founder and CEO of my boss. If he says he’s going to do something, I’m just going to let him do it, I’m not going to check in. If it’s not done by the date, I’m not going to ask about it because I don’t want to create any kind of problems. He’s so senior, he’s so up the ladder, that when he says ‘yes, I’m going to take care of something, Ryan’, I’m just going to be mute and wait and see what happens.” No, what Ryan did was, “Well, Steli is a fucking busy man and he’s responsible for a million fucking things; this is the project I’m responsible for so I’m going to make sure I help Steli deliver the things that he said he would.” He would check in with me, “Hey Steli, how’s the timeline, is everything good? Can I help you with anything?” I would reply, “All good, thanks for checking in, I’m going to get this done by Monday.” On a Monday, he’d be like, “Steli, it’s Monday, woo I’m so excited. Everything is done, you’re the last to do that I’m waiting for. Let me know if anything changed. If you’re too busy today, no problem.” He would constantly communicate. He would follow up with me. If I had to check in with somebody, if I was like, “Yeah, I’ll make an intro,” and that person wouldn’t respond, he would always PING me and go, “Hey, have you followed up yet? Maybe it’s time to follow up, let’s push this, let’s get this home.” He would not let go of the responsibility because I was involved, or anybody else was involved that was quote unquote ‘more senior than him’. He would manage me and other people, and even today he picked me out and said, “Hey, we have a big webinar next week. Steli, do you have time this weekend to do a quick video and do this, and this, and this to promote it?” He would just use me as a resource when needed, explain to me why, and be very mindful about checking in, following up, and helping me accomplish the task or encourage me to get it done in time. I love this, I can’t tell you how much I fucking love it. I honestly believe that if you’re good at managing people, you are somebody that likes to be managed well as well. You’re not difficult to manage, if you’re difficult to manage then you’re probably going to be bad at managing other people as well. I think that there is tremendous value in people realizing that they cannot just manage people that are under them in their org chart, or that they are personally responsible for; everybody is fair game and you shouldn’t think, “This person is so senior, I’ll feel too timid or afraid to check in, to follow up, to follow through, and to manage them for this project.” I wanted to bring this topic up and hear your thoughts on it because I thought it would benefit our listeners.
Hiten Shah: Managing up is such an amazing skill for a team member to have. I think everybody needs to have this. Even as a founder, if you raise money, you have a Board and you’re managing up to them. In the ways that you manage up to them, is literally you have asks of them in the email updates you send them, or in a board meeting, or anything like that. Managing up is a process that people are just not used to. You said it best: you’re the CEO, you hired the person, and yet the person is willing to tell you what they need from you and what you need to do for them, and hold you accountable to it in a way that you might not be able to do for yourself for whatever reason. There’s a really nice way to do that, that it seems like Ryan has really figured it out and is doing, and I think one thing that is really brilliant about it is when you focus on the outcome and the work, and not the people, you have this attitude where, “We’re just going to all work together, it doesn’t matter what your title is and it doesn’t matter who is managing who.” That’s a beautiful team, when you’re focused on the outcome. I believe Ryan is so focused on the outcome that if Steli is responsible for pieces of it and Ryan feels the ownership or whatever over it or it’s his thing, then he will make sure Steli, the human being, is accountable and does it; not Steli, his manager; not Steli, the CEO of the company. I think that’s really important because we tend to put people who are our bosses or our managers or in some kind of authority role, on a pedestal. Then we’re like, “They’re infallible, or they don’t need my help, or I’ll let their slip-ups go.” But, at the end of the day, that’s not acceptable if there are outcomes and there are business requirements and things we’re looking to achieve. I’m always impressed by people that are good at that. I have people on my teams where people are really good at that or people are really bad at that and I’ve always found it challenging to help people understand the difference between good and bad. Bad is constantly asking you questions that they should answer themselves, right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: Or, they should bring to you not the question, but the options. If you’re managing up, don’t bring people the questions when you can think through the options. Bring the people who you are managing up to, options. It’s better to say, “Hey Hiten, what should we do about this feature? There’s some difficulties associated with it, here they are.” I’d rather have, “Hey Hiten, here are the three option to solve the difficulties. Which one would you like to do?” Right?
Steli Efti: Yeah.
Hiten Shah: Or, help me decide which one is the best. Every single person that has managed up to be, that does that, I have an amazing relationship with. Every single person that makes me think about it when they should have, I don’t have that amazing relationship with. It’s not that I think they’re lazy, it’s that I think they’re stupid, it’s not any of that. It’s that I think they’re not respecting themselves. They’re not thinking for themselves. They’re not spending an extra five minutes to make it easy for me to help them make a decision. That’s it. Takes the five minutes and come up with options, otherwise we’re going to do that together. Do you know how much time we’re going to waste doing that together on something you could have just done yourself? Right? Again, that has to do with how you communicate with me and want to manage up to me. Other people might like to discuss it and all that stuff, but I’ve never found this not to work with any manager because a manager appreciates it. They’re like, “Oh, you thought through it and there’s a bunch of options and I just need to help you pick one, two, or three, or whatever. I don’t need to discuss this with you.”
Steli Efti: I love that. I think it comes all back to having a sense of ownership and responsibility, right? Especially even when you talk to people that seem very senior. Instead of saying, “Well, this is Hiten. He surely will know the best answer so let me not even think about an answer, let me just go and ask him,” and basically have him do all the work instead of just doing the appropriate work or the most useful work, you say, “Hey, it’s my job to get to a decision. I think Hiten’s input is going to be important, let me do the research, the homework; let me lay out the options, the pros and cons.” Check in with him and say, “Hey Hiten, here’s something we are working on, here are the four options that we have. I would go with one but I wanted to double check with you and see if you have a different opinion or something to add.” I even teach the bottleneck hack, where there’s an expiration date to this. You know, “Hey Steli, here’s the four options. I would go with one, I could see other ones being good as well. I wanted to check in with you. If I don’t hear back because you’re busy over the next 48 hours, I’ll just go with one.” That way, even if I’m too busy doing other things, I can just glance at it and go, “Alright, I’m cool with option one, I don’t even have to weigh in here.” Or, I can just go, “Yeah, go ahead.” Or if I don’t get to look at it, still decisions are being made and things are being moved forward. I really think the most important thing is the mindset shift; not thinking, “I can only manage and I can only be responsible for people that are directly reporting to me and are under me in the org chart,” versus taking ownership and responsibility for the outcome of the project or the thing that you’re working on, and seeing everybody in the company as a potential resource. You have to be mindful in how you use these resources and thoughtful about it, but everybody is fair game; a resource to help that outcome be as successful as possible. You can be the CEO of that project, of that outcome. You can tap into people above you, on the same level, or more junior in all ways, if you are mindful, if you are respectful, to accomplish the outcome. If you do that, A) the entire company is going to be moving much faster forward and you’ll create a lot more value, but also you develop these management skills that Ryan obviously already developed for a long time running his own business, being a consulting business, and having clients and all that. Once you officially maybe grow into more of an official management or leadership role, you’re going to have all of these skills already established on how to communicate effective, how to lead, how to manage. I think once an organization or a team realizes that management is not something that just happens top-down, it happens bottom-up as well, I think an incredible amount more of success can be accomplished. I love people that do that naturally, obviously. I’m trying to encourage this and teach this more to people that don’t already have that mindset. I think sharing this with the audience, with the people that are listening to us is hopefully going to encourage a lot of people to think a bit differently, act a bit differently, and learn how to manage up, not just down. I think that’s going to benefit a lot of companies out there.
Hiten Shah: Yeah, find your best way to manage up. I think I really loved what you said, which was, “If you learn how to manage up, you’ll learn how to be a manager.” It’s just that simple. It’s the same skill set. That’s pretty awesome.
Steli Efti: Love it. That’s it from us for this episode. We’ll hear you soon.
Hiten Shah: Cheers.