Here at Business Insider, we talk a lot about leadership strategies and how to manage the people who report to you.
Yet, as most workers know, it’s just as important to learn how to manage the people above you. That doesn’t mean giving your boss deadlines or letting them know when they’re wrong — instead, it’s about learning what they really care about and then making sure you deliver on that.
The term is “managing up,” and Dave Kerpen, founder and CEO of software company Likeable Local, knows a lot about it. In his new book, “The Art of People,” Kerpen explains how he learned to manage up early in his career, and how he expects his team to do the same today.
While working at Radio Disney, Kerpen infuriated his manager, Sam, when he consistently showed up late to work. Sam explained that it was disrespectful to him and the rest of the staff when Kerpen showed up late.
Once Kerpen realized that it was respect that was important to Sam, he came up with a plan that would make his life and Sam’s life easier.
Here’s what he said: “I’m just not a morning person, Sam. But I have a lot of respect for you and want to do right by you. I’m happy to work late every night, so instead of staying until 5, I can stay until 6 or 6:30.”
Immediately, Sam came up with an idea: Kerpen would start at 9:30 and work until 6, instead of showing up at 9 and working until 5:30.
After that conversation, Kerpen would still sometimes show up late. But apparently, Sam didn’t mind. Kerpen writes that it was because he took the focus off himself and put it on Sam, and he let Sam come up with an idea to solve the problem.
Essentially, Kerpen had gotten inside Sam’s head to figure out what he really wanted from Kerpen.
“Think of managing up as the ‘Platinum Rule’ for organizations,” Kerpen writes. “Think like your manager and you will reap the benefits of getting your way when you need it most.”
In an interview with Business Insider, Kerpen said that managing up isn’t at all about kissing up to your manager: “It’s about helping your manager look great to his or her manager. And ultimately by doing that you’re going to position yourself better for success.”
He recommends either asking your boss directly what’s important to them or subtly trying to figure it out on your own.
Today, Kerpen said he expects his team at Likeable Local to manage up to him.
Kerpen cares a lot about making sure his employees look polished and come prepared when they present at Monday morning companywide meetings.
“I have my head of marketing show up late Tuesday through Friday and I don’t really care, honestly, as long as Monday morning she’s there and delivering a great report.”
The point is that, often, to perform well at work, you have to first figure out what performing well really means to the person evaluating you.
“It’s not just about doing your job,” Kerpen said. “It’s about doing your job in a way that’ll help your manager feel really good about his or her job and that he or she is doing really well.”