Managing UP When Times are Tough

If you have ever had a boss, you have practiced “managing up,” whether intentionally or unintentionally. Managing up is no laughing matter, especially when your boss may have narcissistic tendencies. It’s easy to be fooled by a narcissist, as it is all too easy to confuse confidence with competence.

Rebecca Knight, in her recent Harvard Business Review article, “How to work for a Narcissistic Boss,” points out critical survival skills:

Know what you’re dealing with. Learn about personality types and how best to respond to them.

Tend to your self-esteem. Have good self-care practices: don’t get all of your esteem needs met at work.

Stroke their ego. No one is crazy about the idea, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Emulate certain characteristics. Not all things they do are bad.

Don’t gossip. Word will likely get back to them.

Weigh the pros and cons of staying. ’Nuf said.

It’s not all bad news. One advantage to having a boss you have to manage is that you learn traits that you don’t want to emulate yourself. Even if your boss is not a narcissist, some general best practices are:

  • Assume positive intent
  • Spend time visioning the kind of boss you would like
  • Reward behavior you want to see repeated
  • Try to understand what is true for them even if you don’t agree

There are no silver bullets out there. In the end, we may find ourselves dedicating lots of time and energy into thinking about how our bosses need to be different, when we might do better putting that time and energy into how we might be different.