Managing up: Do you speak ‘Team-ese’ or ‘Boss-ese’?
This article will help stop you from making the same mistakes I did! It’s about Managing Up and how to build your ‘Political or Organisational Intelligence’.
In my younger leadership days, I used to focus totally on leading my teams. Through my idealistic leadership lens it was the most important thing. And of course it IS. Never, ever lose focus of that.
However, the managing up aspects of leadership are also critical, and need to be consciously learned and continually developed. I wish I’d realised the importance of managing up when I was a young leader. Looking back on those days now, I realise my upwards management was…um, let’s just say at best it left a lot to be desired…at worst…well, one well-known 4-letter word sums it up!
How many times have you tried to pitch a great idea, message or business case to your boss but met a brick wall? And on the flip-side, tried to get across to your team your boss’ company driven message about revenue growth/ driving shareholder value/ saving money/ meeting KPIs, etc and unwittingly neatly surgically removed all traces of engagement & motivation?
Leading a team, you’re nearly always sandwiched in what often feels like an impossible balancing act of mutually exclusive needs: trying to champion your team and meet their and delivering on your boss’/ execs KPIs and drivers.
For one thing, you’re not alone! Nearly every Executive Coaching program we run across the Private, Public and Not-for-Profit Sectors involves a good element of coaching around this issue; it’s a difficult challenge that people rarely get any formal or informal training in.
Our Top Tip: Translate ‘Team-ese’ to ‘Boss-ese’
‘Team-ese’ and ‘Boss-ese’ can be as different as Russian and Swahili! So your job is to be a translator. You need to translate your team’s needs message (‘Team-ese’) into your boss’ language (‘Boss-ese). And vice versa – ‘Boss-ese’ into ‘Team-ese’, something your team can relate to and care about.
You need to be especially fluent in ‘Boss-ese’ if your boss has an ego the size of a small country and/or needs to look good as they’re hell-bent on getting promoted! Similarly, being a master translator of ‘Boss-ese to ‘Team-ese’ is especially important if, for example, your team cares about their clients but really doesn’t give a sh!t about the executive’s KPIs!
Let’s say you want to ask your boss for a small budget to run a team development and strategic planning offsite. You plan to tell your boss this that as things stand, the team are reacting to crises with no time to make a plan to work better - they’re overworked, stressed, and unhappy.
You go to your boss. You feel you’re championing your team - you’re articulating their problems, as they’ve told you. You’re speaking fluent ‘Team-ese’ - ‘what my team needs’ language.
For example: you: “Hi boss, my team and I feel we need to take some time to do a strategic planning and team development day. We’ve been under the pump & reacting transactionally for months, we don’t get time for any strategic planning or even simply time to talk to each other as humans & the team are starting to burn out, they’re overworked, stressed, and having to work longer hours to meet KPIs. We need some time to regroup”
“You’re speaking fluent ‘Team-ese’ – ‘what my team needs’ language…”
However, ‘Team-ese’ often falls on deaf ears as it’s not understood.
The ‘Team-ese’ often translates in your boss’ head to something like “blah blah, team unhappy, blah, not planning, blah blah, not working effectively enough, blah, stressed, blah, can’t cope, blah, more whinging, blah blah blah”. Your boss’ internal dialogue is along the lines of: “I don’t really care if they’re a bit overworked & stressed, so am I! Suck it up! Make time for planning! Work longer if you can’t be effective, I do! I’ve got much more important things to spend my budget on”.
You get the message back “sorry, we haven’t got budget for that, you’ll have to make do for now”.
That may be because there’s genuinely no budget, but it is often because your message wasn’t in ‘Boss-ese’ and simply wasn’t heard and understood properly.
“Your message needs to be in ‘Boss-ese’ to be heard and understood properly”
By translating your message into ‘Boss-ese’, you’ll have much more success. Think about what your boss needs to hear from the ‘what’s in it for me as the boss’ perspective.
e.g. “Hi boss, I know you’re under the pump to meet the KPIs from your boss – I think we can make that happen much faster & more effectively if the team took a short time out to do more strategic planning to regroup & refocus – that could also get your boss off your back a bit! I reckon a ½ day with an external facilitator would be the most effective use of time & resources. What’s your thinking around that?”
Your boss hears your message clearer as it’s more in Boss-ese. They also feel you understand the boss’ problems & the pressure they’re under, which is a lot more of a positive message for you and will stand you in good stead regardless. And you may just tip the scales & get the boss on your side advocating for budget, or at least starting a positive conversation about it.
“And not just your boss. Your boss’s boss is a critical part of the equation too”
And remember, it’s not just about your boss. Your boss’s boss is a critical part of the equation too. If you can, think not only in your boss’s shoes, but also their boss’s shoes. Think also about putting at least some of the message in your boss’ Boss-ese language: in the language of ‘what’s in it for my boss’ boss (because she’s the one who’s going to decide your boss’ promotion/ next bonus/ etc, which, like it or not, is the reality of what many managers are interested in).
So next time you want to give a message upwards, go take a lesson in Boss-ese. Give your boss the information in a language that they understand and can pass upwards to the next level.
The earlier you learn this the better. Managing up in this way is a critical part of leadership at every level from the moment you step into a leadership role - and probably before you actually get promoted too. It often becomes a critical deciding factor in your ultimate leadership success and your promotion – and your team’s ultimate success. And especially as you climb further up the ladder when the organisational political stakes increase, often exponentially.
93% of all 1-1 Executive Coaching programs we do at SCC&D contain a good element of coaching around Managing Up. If you’re getting Executive Coaching, make sure Managing Up is on your development agenda. I reckon I’d have a lot less grey hair now if I’d have known how important Managing Up was and how to do it more effectively.
We’ve found through experience that using an aspect of our in-house developed T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership model works effectively in Managing Up.
Getting insight into what your boss thinks is critical so you know what dialect of Boss-ese they speak. Only when you have insight into the why’s and wherefores of your boss’s perspective can you translate effectively.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership
We define leadership as not just leading your team. It’s also leading yourself, leading your peers and of course leading (managing) upwards.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership is ask not tell, listen over talk, get people thinking of their own solutions and ideas rather than giving them yours, approx 70% of the time. Your manager is also a human being (even though it may not feel like it sometimes!) who’s brain basically operates in the same way yours does, with the same reactions to and needs for the various chemical cocktails that flood into it.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership (upwards as well as downwards) fits in with the neuroscience research and research around Psychological Safety in that it puts good chemicals into people's brains so people feel understood, valued and appreciated. They feel happier, are more engaged and hence perform better. It also ticks the boxes of so much other empirical and behavioural research, including Gallup’s Engagement research. It is also the core behavioural competency underpinning emotional intelligence.
A T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership style (approx 70% of the time) will produce happier, more engaged, people who take more responsibility, think more for themselves and innovate and solve more problems themselves.
T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership develops people who operate at peak performance –better productivity; better outcomes. More innovation will also result. Aren't these the things we all want as leaders? And from our leaders?
Southern Cross Coaching & Development offers our unique T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership program that gives leaders the tools they need to become Coaching Leaders. We've had such incredible feedback from our clients who have adopted our unique, profoundly simple, practical and immediately applicable T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership model.
Clients who have adopted it include global listed companies, large NSW Government agencies, nationally listed and large privately owned corporations.
Our T.O.A.D.™ Coaching Leadership model transcends culture and has proven itself time & time again from CEOs & Executives to new managers. We've rolled out the program in Australia and overseas i.e. Malaysia, Singapore. Ask us how it can benefit your Managing Up and also your team or organisation.
Get in touch here. Or call us direct on +61 2 7901 5618.