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Managing Up: Strategies for 3 Tricky Boss Types

Managing Up

“Managing up” sounds like one of those buzzy corporate phrases that’s been uttered so many times that it’s lost all meaning. But, I assure you it is a skill that’s both real and powerful.

When you’re managing up you’re treating your boss like they’re a client; you’re anticipating their needs, adapting to their style and, ultimately, making them look good.

But what if you’re working for a less than stellar boss? That’s when knowing how to effectively manage up is even more vital – both for you and your boss. Left unchecked, crappy leaders will drag down their staff with them. With a bit of strategy, you could potentially help save the day.

One important thing to note: bad bosses aren’t a one-size-fits-all deal, so you’ll need to tailor your tactics according to your manager’s malady. Here are three common types and tips on how to effectively manage them.

The Micromanager

This boss tells you exactly what to do and how to do it. Then they check (and double check) the smallest details of your work. It’s annoying, time-consuming, and it can make you feel like you’re not trusted to do your job.

This type of boss will probably always be a bit of a control freak, but you can do a few things to get them to lessen the reigns.

  • Make sure you’re doing your job with as much attention to detail as possible; details and precision matter most to micromanagers.
  • Ask for regular check-in times. If your manager knows there’s time on the calendar to discuss projects and provide feedback, they may be less likely to monitor your work on a daily basis.
  • At the conclusion of each project, report your success to your boss. This will reinforce the idea that you’re capable of doing your job and ultimately build trust.
  • Stay consistent. Once you’ve found a good rhythm for your communication, do your best to keep it. Micromanagers are like toddlers in that the smallest disruption to their routine can cause a major meltdown.

The Commitment-Phobe

Also known as the flip-flopper or the boss with no backbone. This particular type of manager can’t make a decision, changes their mind daily, and often defers your inquiry to other departments or colleagues. You spend a lot of time waiting for approval.

Wrangle a commitment-phobe by:

  • Presenting options. Open ended questions are too intimidating for these folks. Don’t ask “What paint color should we choose for the break room?” Say: “We could go with green or blue. Which one do you prefer?”
  • Giving them deadlines. This is your boss we’re talking about, so make sure they know that you know they’re still in charge. But, you can say something like “In order to have the new system in place by the end of the month, we’ll need to make this decision by the end of the week. Does that work for you?”

The Boss Who’s in Over Their Head

This might be a person who, under different circumstances, might be a really great boss. But right now, they’re drowning. Maybe they have too much responsibility or got promoted too quickly. Maybe their boss is making their life hell. Whatever the reason, they’re sucking wind and it’s making them feel insecure. And, they’re taking it out on you.

  • Show empathy. This doesn’t mean you should kiss ass. It means checking in, recognizing their workload, and showing support. Even a simple “It seems like there’s a lot going on” can make them feel validated and supported.
  • Ask if you can help with something specific. Have you noticed a weekly report that keeps getting pushed to the backburner? Offer to take it on. This will send the message that you’re both perceptive and proactive. I know – it’s hard to act generously towards someone who’s lashing out like a wounded animal. But even alleviating one task from their to-do list can make a big difference.
  • Condense your communication, keep it concise, and lean more towards emails than verbal conversations. It’s a lot easier to refer back to one organized email than remember a series of 2-minute conversations over the course of a week.

If you don’t find your manager’s exact personality on this list, the best thing to do is try your best to see the world through their crazy eyes. What’s important to them? What do they need to do their job effectively? What makes them feel secure? If you can answer those questions, then you’re on your way to effectively managing up.

Got any great “managing up” stories to share?


  1. I’ve definitely had all these types. I’ll add another one – the boss that doesn’t participate in time.

    The best thing I’ve ever done is to have a meeting and be direct in my concerns. The key is to begin by saying that my job as an EA is to make them look good, be more efficient, and make sure that their time is well spent. I have their back! However, I can’t do those things if they don’t let me. This opens them up to speak their mind, vent, or finally relax. We can now move forward even if it is taking baby steps.

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