how to manage your boss managing up
Managing Up is a leadership skill that you must develop

“Contrary to popular legend, subordinates do not, as a rule, rise to position and prominence over the prostrate bodies of incompetent bosses. If their boss is not promoted, they will tend to be bottled up behind him. And if their boss is relieved for incompetence or failure, the successor is rarely the bright, young man next in line. He usually is brought in from the outside and brings with him his own bright, young men. Conversely, there is nothing quite as conducive to success, as a successful and rapidly promoted superior.” – Peter Drucker ‘The Effective Executive’

I received the message below. I did my best to respond on how to manage up. When this challenge happens, it is never simple. Management competency has many layers … and generally, my first question is – are you the problem? There is a good chance that you are not a good fit for the job? – However, bad managers happen in many ways, and having some ideas on how to manage up helps.
What do I do? They fired my manager two months ago and didn’t fill her role, just reassigned the tasks to another manager, who is now managing my department plus two other departments. How do I save my sanity when I want to perform and everyone else is happy being mediocre? I need this paycheck and health insurance.

4 Ways to Manage Up

Managing up means you are working to manage your manager. This is a political and leadership risk; the ideas below may help.


You do your best
  • You continue to do your work and document your progress to show you are doing your job and meeting or exceeding all expectations. You keep your head down, focus on your work and what you can control, and smile. You find a nonprofit or a hobby outside of work that makes you happy, and you can dedicate your good energy too.
You make a strategic move.
  1. Find where your work needs support, and you know your manager will not do it for you;
  2. You identify those areas and write up a process, plan, and implementation process to do those things.
  3. You meet with your manager to review what you will do.
  4. You allow or request that your manager make these items part of your yearly goals and feedback.
  5. You highlight publicly and to your manager’s manager how great this person is and how supportive they are.

This strategy may lead them to leave you alone and do what you want.

You go fully apathetic and stop trying.
  • It is tough to get fired in most organizations; as long as you do what is minimally asked, you are more than likely fine. You make a fun game out of vicious compliance or active apathy … and you keep score.
You friend up …
  • You and the manager become besties (just do it) … this will create a cover, and you can work from the inside.

What you cannot do – it will make things worse.

  1. Go to your manager’s manager and complain. This rarely ends well.
  2. Try to embarrass the new manager or outwork them.
  3. Stop doing your work.
  4. Begin to think that your job defines the kind of person you are. Work is a game; it is a different play you act in to allow your other selves to eat and love your family.
  5. Badmouth the new manager to peers.

What would you do? What have you done when you had to report to a manager you felt was incompetent?