Team Members Who Excel Most at Managing UP
Leaders naturally reward, promote, and give responsibility to those team members who make their lives easier. Leaders most appreciate colleagues who deliver results, fulfill their commitments, collaborate with peers, solve problems, anticipate issues, and carry the team flag.
When team members make it clear that they are working hard to make the leader look good through these and other valued outcomes, they are said to be managing up.
Leaders who don’t know about the efforts a team member makes on their behalf can’t reward them for their good work. Team members intuitively know their careers depend on promoting themselves.
They don’t trust leaders to learn for themselves what is being accomplished on their behalf. Instead, team members will tout their results and forecast the personal contribution they’ve made. Everyone does this to some extent or they disappear from sight. The more they elevate themselves in the eyes of their leader, the more aggressively they manage up.
When a team member goes too far in this self-promotion and makes it clear they stand ready to help the leader in any way they can, they are thought to be kissing up rather than managing up. This is annoying to colleagues, especially when leaders sometimes fall for this obsequious attempt to curry favor.
But it becomes a much bigger problem when those who excel at kissing up don’t actually get the job done or create the results they tout.
Colleagues who excel primarily at managing and kissing up without the underlying outcomes worthy of self-promotion make themselves a target for ridicule from peers. The disparaging commentary between teammates about this “brown noser” can undermine team morale and create a negative team atmosphere.
It can get worse.
When the leader falls for the charade of self-promotion without results, productive team members can give less than their all. They find it disheartening to work hard just so a wily teammate can take the credit. Why bother?
Over time, they fall prey to cynicism and despair. Getting ahead, it now seems, has little to do with producing great work but everything to do with managing and kissing up. Teams that live with this reality significantly underperform.
Good leaders recognize that managing up is an essential part of career success. They naturally favor those who make them look good. But they dig in and learn for themselves who is making the contributions necessary for team success. They don’t depend on what team members tell them or allow the charms of self-promotion to color their view. They distinguish between words and deeds. Actions always matter more.
I thought a lot about what type of leader does this (i.e., is a sucker for those who game managing up). Two things came up from the leaders I've reported to or interacted with: 1) They themselves are playing the "Kissing Up" game to their leaders. They tend to go through the motions in their job, only doing enough to get buy and really turning on the charm when those in power are watching; and 2) They Over Delegate: They have solid teams underneath them doing the grunt work with little or no recognition. They take the credit when things go well and assign blame to the team when it doesn't. Instead of being jealous of the attention a team member is receiving for 'kissing up' to the leader, I'd recommend spending time moving to another team/another leader.