Managing upward

If I ask you, what will be the most attractive position you would like to achieve?

I guess most of your answer will vary from CEO to other fancy executive positions. Could also be at least senior manager positions or senior specialist positions. Some of you will choose to become successful entrepreneur, which basically another way to become a CEO of your own company.

Either way, you have to grow up from the bottom and raise or climb upward. You can choose to fight over the career ladder, or take the wild entrepreneurial pathway, doesn’t matter. You, me and everyone else have to fight upward.

Yes, everyone else, even if you inherit the family owned business from your parents.


OK, I see, some of you disagree. Allow me to try to make my case then. Here is my argument. Everyone has to climb upward, since no one can really start from the top.

If we take the career ladder, obviously we have to start from the bottom, or somewhere in the middle. Some actually start from the middle and aiming to get into the fast track, so to say. If we take the entrepreneurial path by building our own business, we start humble and work hard to grow the business in the midst of competition and market pressure.

And when we are growing, or climbing, we are obviously in the middle. Being in the middle means you have to deal with pressure from both below and above.

If you are in the middle of the career ladder, you obviously have to manager all the resources and people under your responsibility. This managing downward is something almost everyone know and agree that is necessity. But we also have to manage upward. We have to manage our superior, or boss, or investors, or shareholders, or benefactors. Different names across different organizations or business type, but essentially the same. It is about dealing with those who has power upon us and whatever we are doing.


That is managing upward.


If you are a growing business owner, yes, you are your own boss. But there are bigger hands controlling you, still. It could be in form of government intervention or market regulation, business association, consumer groups, or brand principal or investors. Unless your business has become the biggest player in the market and driving the competition, you still have big hands that may restrain your freedom. Just like career, before you really get to the top of the food chain, then there is still a need to manage upward.

How about an heir of a family business? They own the business, but they still have their parents and their trusted people. So even the new boss have to manage the former boss and the former advisors. The irony is that when we inherit a business, the one who give it to us have a strong power over us. Hence, an heir of a business empire still has to manage the patriarch or the matriarch of the family, and free him or herself from the curse of heirloom.

It is obviously about the skill to manage upward.

What makes it even more fun is that managing upward is not the same with managing downward. When managing upward, knowing better on what we are doing does not mean we are right and will drive the direction. In fact, some times it really doesn’t matter if we are right at all. We still have to adjust to whatever the higher ground would like to see.

Sometimes, ironically, we have to be able to appease those who actually do not know all the nuts and bolts in what we are doing. And whether like it or not, they can do that, because they own the influence and does not need to know the nuts and bolts. They are the benefactors or what we do.

So it is our job to convince them, to give the recommendation. Challenge them in the right way to provide them with options, so they see that we are actually doing for the best of their interest. For sure, that is for our own interest too, eventually.


That is what managing upward is all about. And it is a skill in itself, which I found rarely discussed. What do you think?


3 thoughts on “Managing upward

  1. Impressive…
    If it possible, this topic can be discussed in a PIO’s group…
    Managing upward is not only skills, but rather the evidence of skills…
    Very interesting, I think…

  2. Fully agree with this article..
    Many times people not aware of managing upward, or to some extent prefer managing downward than managing upward.
    It is because you will have formal and legal authority, by default have “power” in managing downward compare to upward. Then, it is easier to put “pressure” downward.. 🙂
    It is even more interesting if the organization have the culture of “Yes Man”…

    Based on my experience, sometimes we need to ‘educate’ superior or people with higher authority.. or even stimulate a constructive process in certain way (though sometimes it will cause uncomfortable situation)..

    I agree with Darwin that it is not only a skill per se.
    I see it as combination of skill, art, and individual characteristic.. 🙂

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