Managing Up and Managing Down

Managing Up and Managing Down

I just had a great lunch with some of the folks I used to manage.  It’s always really enjoyable to catch-up with people you like once you’ve left the social structure of being their manager–you have a new capability to talk to them more casually, be more frank and, if you’re lucky, get totally real feedback on your management style.

One of the things we talked about was different styles of managers and thinking about on whom (or what) the manager is focused.  While both directions are important, some managers tend to focus up and some down.

The managers who are focused on managing up tend to leave their teams alone and spend as much time as possible with their superiors.  In my experience, these managers appear to get the most promotions with the most speed, as they are constantly in the face of their managers about their skills, qualifications and accomplishments.  This can also have a benefit to the team when that manager is doing a solid job of promoting his team in addition to himself to his managers.  Without any data, however, I would venture that these managers typically don’t do that and that their upward focus is really a focus on themselves.

The other type of manager, who is focused downward, is focused on his team.  This manager tries to maximize time with his team and his peers and minimize time with executives.  The downward focused manager knows that he will succeed if his team succeeds. He knows that if he wants his team to succeed, he must mentor and guide his team and actually know what the hell it is they do in their day-to-day job.  A downward focused manager tries to develop his people more than himself.

I guess you can see where I come out on this–I believe I am a person who manages down more than up.  I think it really is the best route.  My goals as a manager are very simple:

  1. Hire and retain great people
  2. Motivate and teach to help great people become even better
  3. Know that someone on my team wants my job and is ready to take it
  4. Be confident that my team is contributing to the success of the enterprise

I don’t pretend to have come anywhere near actually achieving all of these four goals, but they guide my work as a manager.  In most management jobs, you have some portion of your time you spend as a manager (ideally 70%) and some portion as a contributor yourself.  The goals above only speak to the 70% time.  During that time I should be focused on being a professional manager and being really good at it.  I want to be promoted to do new and great things because of my individual skills AND my management skills.  Far too often, especially in the technology industry, individuals are promoted based on technical skills (in the broadest sense, whether you are a software engineer, product manager or designer) and not enough consideration is given to actual management skills.

I encourage all managers to think about how they spend their management time and what their goals are.  Do you have regular team meetings? Do you have social events? Do you survey your team anonymously to understand gaps to improve?  Does your team believe that working for you furthers their careers and goals?  If you’re just managing up, the answer is probably “no.”  Managing up is managing for yourself.  Managing down is managing for your people.

I want to manage for my people.  Who do you manage for? How do you like to be managed?