When It’s OK To Manage Up

In an industry as established as the practice of law, a hierarchy of expertise is already in place. For example, first years know less than second years, who bow down to third years, and the chain of command continues.

In fact, honorifics such as “Mr.” or “Ms.” are often less heard around the law office than titles like “junior” or “senior” attorney.

This is why, for lawyers, managing up may seem extremely foreign. Like a Colorado stream, California ski slope, or New York street, some phenomena are meant to channel only one direction.

Sill, there are a few reasons why a subordinate should consider managing their boss instead of being managed by him.

1. Your boss micromanages you.

If your boss is driving you mad with micromanagement, why not beat him to the punch?

Your boss enjoys stopping by your office, unannounced, every hour of the day. He also likes to call you for status updates on five-minute intervals. Let’s not forget that your boss also tells you when to take lunch, coffee breaks, and go home at night.

So what can you do? Manage up by preemptively arranging meetings.

Start with daily meetings after lunch. Provide detailed status reports unprompted. And, don’t leave out any minor occurrences, including “I called the vendor you asked about, but at 1 o’clock nobody answered. I will call again at 1:30 and update you at 2:00.”

Maybe your boss has a mind like a magpie. Or, perhaps he is overextended. It could be your boss just doesn’t trust your work. Whatever the reasons, by managing up, you will cut down on your boss’s pesky, never-ending questions.

You will also demonstrate your proactive nature and attention to detail.

At best, you may even annoy him enough for some well-deserved peace and quiet.

2. Your boss has superior technical experience.

Who knows why certain employees move up the ranks faster than others. In law, there’s a timeline for each hierarchical position. Other instances, it’s the luck of the draw, winning a big case, or finding new clients.

However, superiority in rank doesn’t always correlate with superiority of skill.

So, if your boss is exceptionally good at the law, but lacks skills in leadership, you may try managing up.

When casework becomes duplicative, work convoluted, time inefficiently spent, and hours unproductively long, volunteer to divvy up assignments and write the status reports. Create a checklist for casework and request employees report findings to you first.

Manage the case the way your boss should.

It’s likely that your entire team will appreciate your enthusiasm for the project, as well as your organizational skills. Your boss will have more time to contribute high-level technical knowhow and, for once, people might get a sufficient night’s sleep.

3. You have specific career ambitions.

Another reason to manage up is to manage your career.

If you have specific ambitions at your firm—making partner, moving to administration, or changing departments—typically your boss becomes your advocate.

In those cases where your supervising manager is self-promoting, unfocused, or just inept, it’s important to start guiding your own career path.

For example, take on extra responsibilities, think of creative solutions to problems, and preemptively provide casework. Remember that brief that nobody wanted to write? Let the task fall to your desk, and not you boss’s. Remember that vendor problem the copy room was having? Price some new ones.

Employees assume that their boss has some secret knowledge that puts them in a position of authority. In reality, it’s often a consequence of good place, good time, right person…

Unless, of course, you become the right person and get noticed by managing up.



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