Managing up Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2008

As business leaders compete to boost their return on human capital while perfectly executing their company’s latest business strategies, it’s no wonder that employee passion remains a top priority. So how are today’s leaders creating a passionate work force, energized and prepared to meet the challenges of today’s agile organizations?

“We have companies that are trying to do more with less, with a shrinking employee population,” says Phil Reynolds, senior consulting partner, The Ken Blanchard Companies®. “So companies must create self leaders who will give the extra energy toward the key performance indicators critical for overall organizational vitality.”

Smart Business recently spoke with Reynolds about certain key concepts discussed in Ken Blanchard’s book “Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager,” (coauthored with Susan Fowler and Laurence Hawkins) including how managing up helps self leaders get the job done, builds trust and creates passion in the people who are willing to give extra effort.

What is the definition of a self leader?

The book ‘Self Leadership and the One Minute Manager’ defines a self leader as someone who has both the skill sets and the mindset to lead themselves to reach their critical tasks and goals.

How is self leadership a benefit to organizations?

Companies want to create a work force that is both able and willing to meet the challenges of today’s fast-paced, flatter organizations. There’s been a lot of focus on retention as the grand prize, but sticking around might actually mean that people are stuck in a rut, and retention doesn’t automatically deliver stellar performance or extraordinary effort.

Self leaders are employees who will be both productive and also go the extra mile toward achieving those key performance indicators and key work areas. So it’s not just people sticking around or hanging around — it’s retaining people who are actually giving their best to the customers and to their job.

How does an employee ‘manage up’?

As a self manager, you must first honestly ask yourself a set of questions including, what is the task or goal I’m being asked to do? Am I competent? Do I have the skills to do this task and goal? What’s my commitment level? Am I motivated? Am I confident I can do this task without help? Once you determine these needs, then you can begin to ask yourself if you need additional direction or support. Managing up means not just going to your leader but also taking the responsibility of going wherever you need to go to get what you need. It could be your boss, it could be your colleague, or it could be a team member.

What is a major roadblock to managing up?

Mindset can be the most difficult aspect of managing up. You can have the skills in place, but if your mindset is that you believe you can’t manage up, you won’t. Let’s say you feel your boss won’t listen to any of your ideas — that is a constraint you have around your working conditions. So that assumed constraint — a belief based on past experience that limits current experience — actually limits you from managing up. One of the things that research has shown is that the truth will not set you free. Someone can come in and tell you the truth about something, but unless you have a mindset and framework that reinforces that, you’re not going to act on it.

Where do you see companies struggling with building self leaders?

We’ve taught leaders how to let go, but we haven’t taught people how to hang on. Companies teach leaders how to delegate, communicate and lead through change, but we don’t teach the employees how to manage themselves through that process. When you empower leaders but they don’t know what you’re empowering them for, they become frustrated because they feel that the organization is dumping work on them. With no sense of enthusiasm around what they’re doing, they’ll do the very minimum required.

What are the managers’ responsibilities for self leadership?

The managers’ responsibilities are communicating to employees a clear picture of what a good job looks like, a clear outcome or target, and then providing the communication mechanism or venue for the employees to be able to share with them what they need. The main responsibility of the manager is to provide the followers what they cannot provide for themselves by building trust with fair practices and helping them reach their goals.

What are the responsibilities of self leaders?

As a self leader, your job is to diagnose and determine what you need from your leader. Most of the research that has been done on the subject of leadership has been written from the perspective of the leader — the top-down approach. The leader ‘empowers’ you or tries to ‘engage’ you in the workplace. The self leader takes ownership for the power and responsibility that is given to him or her in the workplace.

PHIL REYNOLDS is a senior consulting partner with The Ken Blanchard Companies. Reach him through The Ken Blanchard Companies Web site at