Maximize Your Career Potential by Managing Up

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Picture this: you’ve just started a new job, but your new manager isn’t as hands-on as previous supervisors or professors. Instead, you get 30-minutes of one-on-one time with them every other week and—before you can even learn how to use the printer—they expect you to show results. Yikes! Other managers may report into someone that is too hands-on—an entirely different challenge. Whatever your situation may be, learning how to work with your direct supervisor can make or break the early days of your career. The right manager can be your mentor, guide and biggest cheerleader, and it all comes down to how you manage up.

Changing Workplace Dynamics and the Keys to Managing Up
According to the Pew Research Center, Millennials (ages 21 to 38) have overtaken Baby Boomers in the workforce. Did you cringe at the word “millennials”? It’s Ok. I hate that word, too. Younger generations get a bad rep – we are often pegged as needy, entitled, narcissistic, unfocused, lazy – the list goes on. What’s interesting is that we see ourselves as motivated and purpose-driven, trying to make a difference in the world.

Simon Sinek’s video about Millennials in the workforce highlights a key point that unlocks a lot of our problem here: Millennials tend to have difficulty developing meaningful relationships—especially in the workplace. They also tend to be impatient about getting to where they’re going.

The reality, as stated by Sinek, is that the key to managing up is found at the intersection of patience and relationship development.

We’ve all heard the saying, “People leave managers, not companies.” According to Gallup CEO Jim Clifton, “The single biggest decision you make in your job—bigger than all the rest—is who you name manager. When you name the wrong person manager, nothing fixes that bad decision. Not compensation, not benefits—nothing.” (Source: Inc.)

But what makes a good manager? In my experience, the best managers are available when you need them, capable of sharing quality feedback, and able to recognize the strengths and weaknesses in others. While it’s easy to demand those of others,  best way to bring these characteristics out in your manager is to portray them yourselves.

Millennial psychology aside, there are some clear ways to “hack” managing up—no matter which kind of manager you have.

The Power of Quick Wins
If you’ve worked at an agency, you’ll be familiar with this concept. This is the first rule of onboarding a new account—deliver quick wins. However you define a “win,” immediately delivering on your promises and showing success can go a long way in getting the right attention from your manager.

This doesn’t only work for new relationships. In fact, this works after every performance review, weekly one-on-one meeting and more. Remind them of why they hired you and remind them that it was a good decision.

How to Ask for Feedback
How many times have you felt criticized or unappreciated at work? In those situations, I would say it’s probably because you were lacking quality feedback. There are hundreds of articles and books about giving and receiving feedback for a reason—it’s the key to every good relationship.

When giving feedback, first make sure they’re open to it. Ideally you would have already established a relationship with your manager so you can go to them with your questions and concerns. If you have a weekly 1:1 with your boss, then it’s easy—that’s your chance to talk about things that are/aren’t working.

If not, then you need to ask. It’s easiest to do that in the context of your work with them. When they come to you with a new project ask if you can discuss your concerns one-on-one. Some helpful phrases to try out:

  • “Would it be helpful to have another perspective?”
  • “Now that I’ve gotten my head around this assignment, can I talk to you about how things are going?
  • “Do you have a minute to discuss ____? I need more clarity from you on [my role, my responsibility, how we are approaching the assignment].

The key with this is to be specific and don’t get personal. If you start making generalizations or start attacking them as an individual, you could put them on the defensive, and lose your chance to be effective.

It’s worth noting that some relationships will not allow for feedback. In those situations, it’s usually a senior executive so empower yourself to do your best to see things from their perspective.

Receiving feedback is simple—all you need to do is ask:

  • “Do you mind providing feedback on this project? I’m interested in getting your thoughts so I can learn and make adjustments next time.”
  • “Did this meet your expectations?”
  • “Am I getting closer to your vision for this project? If not, where should I focus?”

Feedback should be honest (not brutal, but direct) and real-time. If you only get feedback once per year, then you only have one chance per year to improve. If you get generic responses to your questions, follow up: “Tell me more about that.”

How to Discover “Unwritten Rules”
I’m a fan of discovering “unwritten rules” by befriending the gatekeepers—like the receptionist or your boss’s assistant. You should also work to get to know the people that have been at the company longer than you—they will be a tremendous asset to you as you get to know the “way” of a company’s culture. They can also share tips for working with certain individuals (like your manager).

Unwritten doesn’t usually mean secret, so also don’t be afraid to ask. You’re probably not the first person to do so.

Why Personalities Matter in the Workplace
In Meyers-Briggs, I’m an ENTJ. That means I’m extroverted, intuitive, a thinker and judging (i.e., logical and decisive). The better you understand yourself, the better you can help others to understand you. And for someone to truly manage me, they need to understand me—it works the other way, too.

Understanding how your manager processes information is something I’m still learning—my manager internally processes information and needs more time to think before coming back to me with feedback. I, on the other hand, externally process everything—meaning I like to talk it out with you right then and there until we come to a resolution.

Get to know your manager and be curious about how they think. Learn to anticipate their questions based on their priorities. Understand that everyone is different, and it would be unreasonable to assume otherwise.

What it Means to Set Expectations
Understanding what your manager wants from you—and vice versa—comes down to how you communicate expectations. Be clear about what’s expected up front so there are no surprises (or disappointments) down the road. How do you do that? Have a process. First, ask questions and repeat what you’re hearing. Then, put it in writing (e.g., in an email) and get them to agree to it.

Communications for Communicators
Practice what you preach. Sometimes we can be so client-focused that we forget to utilize our own best practices. Try creating your own formal strategy, just as you would with any client, for how you communicate with your manager. Pre-empt their asks by being proactive. If your manager ever has to come to you and ask you for a status report, you’re too late in getting it to them.

Learn to anticipate the questions of your manager: what are they being held accountable for? That’s what they’re going to ask you about. Find a way to let them know the status of what you’re working on so they don’t have to come looking for you.

In closing, managing up is a challenge because managing people is hard. Be patient with yourself and with your manager. Everyone is on a journey and learning at their own pace.

And the key to any management relationship—up or down—is not management, but the relationship. Take your boss out for coffee and get to know her. That relationship will be the key to your success.

Scott ThornburgAbout the Author
Scott W. Thornburg, APR, is an accredited marketing communications leader with nearly a decade of global agency and in-house experience. Passionate about his work, he is known for thoughtful management of complex issues, careful attention to detail and high-impact leadership. Scott has been a strategic communications adviser for top global brands like Oracle, ExxonMobil, Dell, Cirque du Soleil, Hard Rock, Nasdaq, lynda.com (acquired by LinkedIn) and more. He now works as a senior public relations manager for Sojern, a travel marketing and advertising technology company. He’s a graduate of The University of Southern Mississippi (2010), with a degree in journalism, and an emphasis in public relations. Scott is a member of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and serves on the organization’s national board.

Leadership Outside of the Office

Maybe you were a leader when you were in PRSSA, or honed your leadership skills through your on-campus involvement. Now that you’re a new professional, you get to start anew and take your leadership to another level. Natural-born leader or not, there are many ways to exercise your leadership outside of the workplace.

Leaders share their wealth of knowledge with others.

PRSA and similar organizations

Local PRSA Chapters and New Pros committees are always looking for new leadership. I always hear from seasoned PR professionals that New Pros are the future of every organization, so why wait until later when you can start making an impact today?

Every organization needs strong leaders to help make crucial decisions. The best way to get your foot through the door in PRSA leadership is by leading in a committee or undertaking a big event/workshop. It’s a great way to network and get some name recognition if you hope to join the board of directors one day.

Local nonprofits and philanthropies

Most nonprofits are in need of an extra hand, and what better way to cure that do-gooder itch than to lend your expertise to a local nonprofit? Find a cause that you’re passionate about, rally up volunteers and lead the cause calling your name. If there isn’t a cause that piques your interest, start one.

There are so many ways to give back to the community: food drives, local politics, animal shelters and the list goes on. Find an area that could benefit from your expertise. A lot of millennials care about cause-driven movements, so finding people to join the effort shouldn’t be too difficult.

Share your knowledge

Leaders share their wealth of knowledge with others. Leaders also build others up, which brings up the quality of people around them. Not only does this extend your authority on the topic of leadership, but it also helps aspiring leaders learn from you. This could include speaking at a PRSA workshop, PRSSA meeting or offering advice at an organization that helped you get to where you are right now.

Even if you don’t think you’re the strongest leader around, these are great ways to become one. If you believe you’re a great leader, bring those qualities to the table and make something better.

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Gemrick Curtom is a member of the PRSA New Professionals Committee and the PRSA Houston Chapter. He is a University of Houston alum and currently resides in Houston, TX. You can follow him on Twitter or connect on LinkedIn.

Leadership In 2016 – Part 3

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Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series by leadership and communication expert David Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA.  In the first two posts, David discussed the importance of leadership today and the keys to effective leadership (with some great input from readers of this blog!)

Leadership Is Easier When You Are Authentic

Growing up, I found myself on the “Supposed To” track.  The feelings I allowed myself to have as a child, teenager and adult were solely happy feelings; the rest of my feelings went into this black hole never to be discovered or talked about.

At age 33, I had achieved all of what I was supposed to and more, and found myself in a therapist’s office.  In talking about my challenges, I had put on the veneer of my polished, professional self.  It’s then that I grabbed the pillow next to me and clenched it to my chest.  Hard.  In that moment, there was a huge disconnect between the words I was saying and my feelings.

My therapist and I now laugh about the pillow that launched my journey of authenticity – one I wish I had started years earlier.

As we think about leadership today, starting on (or continuing on) a path toward authenticity is a way all leaders can make a difference – for themselves and for others.  Authenticity matters today.  Authentic leaders get better business results, have healthier work lives, and excel in real, meaningful relationships. They sleep better at night.

The Road Less Traveled: A Journey of Authenticity

What’s essential for your Journey of Authenticity is to come at it from a place of self-knowledge instead of coming from a place of responding to stress, worry, or anxiety.  This means being as purposeful as you can on your chosen route.

What I know from my research and consulting, as well as from interviews with senior leaders and practitioners – authenticity isn’t a skill.  It’s a component of one’s self that a person can actually accentuate or work on to become better and lead a more fulfilling life – whether it’s on the job, in your relationships, or at home.

No one really learns the skill of authenticity.  Instead, authenticity comes through by improving our communication skills as leaders.   When you come at communication from an authentic place, communication becomes much easier and much more effective.

How To Be Authentic

For me, authenticity has 3 components:

1. Know Yourself

Early in my career, I was fortunate to work with some incredibly inspiring leaders who brought out the best in me. I gravitated toward them because of how they made me feel. I trusted them because they were genuine, authentic, and because they demonstrated much more confidence in me than I had in myself. They stood for my potential, which was incredibly motivating for me as a 20-something professional, and only spurred me on to be even better.

When it was my chance to lead, I was determined to lead in a similarly authentic way. I tried to take the best strategies from each of them. After all, imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Still, I made my share of mistakes as a new leader, and then I realized an important lesson:

Leading authentically isn’t about being “like” someone else. Instead, it’s about knowing yourself and being who you are. Sure, you can “try on” strategies that work for others. Yet in the end, leading authentically is about finding what works best for you. And when you are genuine, you have “full power,” which is what the Greek root of authentic—authentico—truly means.

2. Be Yourself

The second component is about acting in ways that are consistent with who you are. This is your own self-awareness as you relate to others.  This means behaving in ways that are in sync with your values instead of simply trying to please others or get something from others.

Early in my career, I acted like a chameleon, changing my thoughts and feelings based on others.  Today, I strive to be my authentic self regularly.  What it looks like and how I act really doesn’t change very much.  What does change is how I feel on the inside.  When I acted as a chameleon, I did it out of a desire for people to like me.  When I relate to others from an authentic place today, I do it with confidence.  I don’t worry that they won’t like me.  They might not, and that’s their choice – that’s okay.  I’m simply no longer consumed with the need for people to like me.

3. Have Quiet Courage As You Interact With Others

Authenticity is about this constant process of being truthful – first with yourself and then with others – to say the things that need to be said.  It can be very difficult to do it in a kind and respectful way.  Quiet courage is about saying the truth so others are able to hear it.  This isn’t “Rambo” courage but an internal kind of courage that comes from deep inside. It’s about knowing that being truthful is the only way to move people and the business forward. Failing to address the problems or areas of improvement won’t help the business succeed.

Must-Haves for Your Journey to be Authentic

If you’re up for the Journey – and I hope you are – here’s what’s important to have with you at all times:

  • First, your curiosity – You can’t be authentic without the ability to reflect and be self-aware. Your curiosity needs to be as strong – or stronger – than any of the thoughts or feelings you might be having – whether it’s concern or worry, or other much more complex feelings like fear or shame.  If you can be curious, you can look at anything.  You can say, “Hmmm… Wow, that’s interesting. Is there something worth exploring here?  Is there something I can learn about myself or others?” To get ahead in business, you need to continually learn and grow.

    Plus, curiosity will make you a better listener.  The better you listen to others, the better they will listen to you, and the better your relationships will be, including your most important relationship – the one you have with yourself.

  • Second, embrace who you are – It’s our imperfections that create connections with others. People say all the time to “let it go” – the phrase that made the movie, “Frozen,” so popular.  You can never let go what you haven’t embraced.

    You have to say, “This is mine.  I can hold it.  I can own it.  Now, I can let it go.”  And then once you really accept it, saying, “Yes, this is me.  It’s not my favorite part.  Now I can begin the process of letting it go and setting it aside.  It doesn’t really control me.”

  • Last, focus on what you can control – think about all you have control over, and focus on that. Not how your boss, colleagues, or clients behave.  Not the economy.  Not the fact that “stuff happens.”  Don’t focus on where you’re powerless to change things. Instead, focus on what you can do something about.

When In Doubt, Take A Step Back

If you find yourself stressed, or feel stuck on your Journey, just listen to yourself – to your gut.  Take a step back and try to see the forest through the trees.

When you’re approaching a mountain and are miles out, it seems really small.  When you get to the bottom of the mountain and look up, you realize it’s huge.  When life gets too big, back up a little bit.  Sometimes when you’re too close to something, it can feel overwhelming.  You feel incapacitated and can’t take the first step.  Or, the alternative strategy is to get to the base of the mountain and don’t look up; just put your nose down and start. A CEO I used to work with at McDonald’s often would say, “Jump in; the water’s fine!”

The process of looking at yourself can be very difficult in the beginning.  But the value at the other end can be so worth the process.  Very few things feel as rewarding as being who you are in the workplace.

How are you doing at leading authentically, and what’s a next step to advance your Journey?

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David Head Shot High ResDavid Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is both a teacher and student of effective leadership and communication and helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership communication. He’s a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A three-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Hill-Rom, Eastman Chemical Company, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s and Motel 6, to name a few. His newest book, “No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds,” was published in the fall of 2015 and recently won the Pinnacle Book Award for the “Best in Business” category. In addition, David teaches Internal Engagement at Columbia University, in New York City. To connect with David you can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Leadership in 2016 – Part 2

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Editor’s Note: This is guest blog #2 of three that David Grossman will be contributing. Stay tuned for the final part of the series this spring.

What is the Key to Great Leadership Today?

The question of what it takes to be a great leader is a fascinating one, a point made abundantly clear from the recent responses I received to the question following my last post. I challenged readers to give me their best insights on great leadership, and they delivered!  

Everything you shared was insightful, including the need for leaders to go out of their way to connect with their teams, to inspire, to be transparent, to have humility, to challenge the status quo and to encourage different points of view.  

You also talked about understanding and valuing the important role that each individual plays toward achieving an organization’s goals.  To that end, great leaders have a mindset that everyone on the team is a leader.  They help everyone develop their leadership skills so they’re ready, willing and able when it’s their chance to lead.

Just consider the annual scene of geese flying south for the winter. It’s then, when the geese are searching for a warmer climate, that we see the flying-V formation overhead. What’s particularly interesting is that the goose at the apex of the V might be considered the leader. They set the course, lead the way and deal with the most wind in their face.

But that’s only for a time. When the lead goose tires, he or she moves back to the end of the line. Then, a new goose becomes the leader – setting the course, leading the way, and dealing with the most wind in their face.

In business today, organizations need a similar formation, with everyone leading regardless of whether they manage people or not. And that means everyone needs to be ready to lead when it’s their turn.

Once leaders can foster this kind of mentality in an organization, they help ensure accountability. If everyone sees themselves as leaders, no one feels comfortable straying from the ethical standards and values that the company promises to live by.

In my view, that’s one of the most important keys to great leadership.

In my next and last post in this leadership series, I’ll offer some critical tips for how to lead in an authentic way – one that’s motivational and inspirational, as well as is true to who you are.

In the meantime, I’m interested in your thoughts:

In what ways could your organization better help everyone to be a leader?

David Head Shot High ResDavid Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is both a teacher and student of effective leadership and communication and helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership communication. He’s a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A three-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Hill-Rom, Eastman Chemical Company, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s and Motel 6, to name a few. His newest book, “No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds,” was published in the fall of 2015 and recently won the Pinnacle Book Award for the “Best in Business” category. In addition, David teaches Internal Engagement at Columbia University, in New York City. To connect with David you can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.

Leadership in 2016

leadership_2016

Editor’s Note: This is guest blog #1 of three that David Grossman will be contributing. Stay tuned for the others this spring.

What does effective leadership look like today?

Over the past several years, the sheer volume of high-profile business leadership and ethics scandals has dominated our headlines, causing scores of people to ask, “What’s wrong with business leadership today?” 

Some of the more recent scandals include Toyota concealing vital information about a car defect that caused cars to accelerate faster on their own, and GM replacing ignition switches that key company officials had known were faulty for years. Before that, there was money laundering at Enron, fraudulent accounting at WorldCom, securities fraud at Tyco, ethics and compliance violations throughout the pharmaceutical industry, and countless stories of executives inflating their resumes to present a more impressive public face.

That may leave young professionals wondering what it really takes to be a high-integrity, great leader in today’s business environment, when it seems so easy to stray from the right path. At the same time, there’s clearly a terrific need for great leadership that can elevate our business culture and transform organizations. 

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Given this reality, I’m very curious to know what you think:

How do you define leadership today?

What does it take to be a great leader? What are the most important qualities that great leaders possess? Are there leaders you admire, and if so, who are they and what have they done to impress you? 

I welcome your thoughts on this important question. Send me your insights and I look forward to synthesizing your thoughts and providing my own answer to this question in my next blog. 

So, let’s dialogue! What does it really take to be a great leader today? 

David Head Shot High ResDavid Grossman, ABC, APR, Fellow PRSA is both a teacher and student of effective leadership and communication and helps leaders drive productivity and get the results they want through authentic and courageous leadership communication. He’s a sought-after speaker and advisor to Fortune 500 leaders. A three-time author, David is CEO of The Grossman Group, an award-winning Chicago-based strategic leadership development and internal communication consultancy; clients include: Hill-Rom, Eastman Chemical Company, Kimberly-Clark, McDonald’s and Motel 6, to name a few. His newest book, “No Cape Needed: The Simplest, Smartest, Fastest Steps to Improve How You Communicate by Leaps and Bounds,” was published in the fall of 2015 and recently won the Pinnacle Book Award for the “Best in Business” category. In addition, David teaches Internal Engagement at Columbia University, in New York City. To connect with David you can find him on LinkedIn and Twitter.