Managing Up: Stepping Into Your Boss’s Shoes

By Patrick Reilly and Tony Deblauwe

Organizations continue to face challenges with internal communications. One of the most potentially challenging is the one between manager and employee. Different perspectives can emerge due to hierarchy, accountability, and unclear expectations. Sometimes the key to finding common ground between you and your manager is to change your perspective, or, put another way, to step in your boss’s shoes.

Imagine for a moment what being in your boss’s shoes would feel like:

  • What insights would you gain in terms of process, responsibility, and getting things done?
  • What might you do differently if you had the whole team in mind?
  • If you needed to think about the budget more carefully?
  • If you had to think about managing your boss’s boss?
  • How would you feel being the person who takes the hit if things go wrong, but makes the call for decisions? 
  • What would you do differently as an employee in how you manage up with this new point of view? 


The following tips can help you visualize keys to expanding your perspective, potentially change your behaviors, and help you build successful team dynamics as if you were the manager. 

  • Relationship: connection is vital to know what employee needs are. The better connected you are with your employees, the more everyone knows what the acceptable ways of working are. This means you can share information easily, generate better solutions, and be more effective in problem prevention. Transparency and clear communication is vital to establishing a relationship based on trust.
  • Collaboration: think about the ways of working that lead to alignment in order to create better efficiency of capabilities.  Two heads share better than one and there is just too much to know for any individual to make informed choices alone. So it is smart to figure out what you and your boss both need to foster connection and consensus. 
  • Broad thinking: imagine if you were really wearing your boss’s shoes. How will you change your overall perspective and become more strategic? What are the factors that require you to remain sensitive to larger internal and external factors impacting decisions you and your team need to get work done? Don’t get stuck in the weeds—be mindful of the future while staying focused in the present. Conflict emerges from distraction and too narrow a focus so evolve your peripheral vision.
  • Challenging your point of view: Can you see the forest for the trees? Are you sure there is always one way to look at a situation? In your boss’s shoes, would you value being pushed by team members and having them test your point of view? How would you balance your position with theirs? Ask yourself if you are not currently challenging your boss’s point of view, how would you perform differently in making sure you are remaining transparent with your team?  
  • Compassion for complexity: more people and a bigger budget mean problems can grow quickly and create challenges in managing expectations. This means being more authentic and aware about time and daily pressures.  Find the best way to navigate with an emphasis on efficiencies and long-term results.

Now take off your boss’s shoes and step back into your own. How can you be a more effective partner with your boss? What gaps can you fill and what actions can you take to address important business issues? Effective communication starts with a step back and then strides forward. The better you can relate to the conditions you and your boss face, the more successful the outcomes will be for your boss, for you, and for the team.

About the Authors:

Patrick and Tony are the authors of #MANAGING UP tweet Book01: 140 Tips to Building an Effective Relationship with Your Boss. Both Tony and Patrick have extensive experience in a variety of organizations and provide a wealth of knowledge and tips to any working environment. The THiNKaha series of business books provides targeted, just-in-time guidance for a broad spectrum of business needs. For more information or to contact the authors please visit www.thinkaha.com.

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