The Biggest Mistake People Make When Managing Up

If you subscribe to the adage that “who” you know is more important than “what” you know when it comes to career success, relationship building is key. Increasingly, women are taking heed of this fact: Female respondents to the Report survey were more likely than men to network with professionals at a level equal to or more senior than their current position, and to have a network with a more balanced distribution of men and women contacts. But sociologist Marianne Cooper points to a vast body of social research indicating that, despite such networking prowess, professional women sometimes face an uphill battle: They tend to be disliked more than men when acting authoritatively in the workplace, simply because being assertive, competitive, or forceful violates traditional gender stereotypes.


Unfair as it may be, this double standard underscores the importance of embracing and mastering the art of managing up and managing down. Here’s how.

Don’t let who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others, especially underlings.

Be genuine with those above and below you. It all goes back to what you learned as a child: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Approach everyone at work with respect, making any notion of what they can or can’t do for you irrelevant.

In a discussion about this on Connect, Citi’s network of more than 300,000 professional women on LinkedIn, Laura Rottman, founder of Laura Rottman Consulting, offered some advice that’s particularly helpful for managing down: “Be genuine in interactions, and relate to everyone as if they are President/Owner/EVP. Don’t let the dynamics of a meeting or who is sitting around the table change how you relate to others. Listen, and count to five before you respond to let what the person has said soak in.”

Make it about them. Being a good manager isn’t about making yourself “known”; it’s about presenting your talents and ideas in a way that can be of service to others. As part of the Connect discussion, Mhairi Gordon-Preston, a career-change coach and founder of, shared the tale of a memorable female leader who held brown bag lunches for colleagues, transforming her agenda (a volunteer project she was running) into a meeting that was engaging, relatable, and inspiring.

“The overall message was, ‘This was the impact on audiences you work with. If we work together, you could increase your project’s impact, too.’ This got personnel at different levels interested and thinking about how they could contribute. It also raised her profile within the organization; her career trajectory has been very impressive.”

Create a nurturing culture. Caroline Dowd-Higgins, author and career expert, says that promoting a culture of “managing up” among your own reports is another impactful way to give them the support and tools they need to flourish so they can rise through the corporate ranks alongside you.

“Get in the habit of sending a brief monthly email (preferably in bullet-point format) to your boss listing your accomplishments and upcoming initiatives and goals,” she says. “Encourage your direct reports to do the same.”

In the Connect discussion, self-employed consultant Toyin Olowoyo opined on the importance of establishing trust when managing down: “People naturally follow leaders they feel they can learn something from. Selfless leaders are rare, but they are the kind of people you never want to disappoint as an employee.”

When you establish a culture that encourages the growth of every member on your team and provides everyone—regardless of role or title—with the opportunity to essentially “write” their own career destiny, you’re not just giving them support as a manager; you’re staying tuned in to their ever-expanding range of skills and to their future goals—which can only serve to bolster your own success in the end and make managing up that much easier.

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