Managing the boss is an essential leadership characteristic. John Kotter popularized the phrase in a seminal article, Managing Your Boss, first published in Harvard Business Review in 1980. In the article Kotter encourages leaders to ensure the boss has the right amount of visibility without being overwhelmed in details. Leaders must be proactive in helping the boss understand the important aspects of the work and how it relates to the whole without pulling the boss into the weeds. In other words, most of upward leadership is about communication.
So what should you communicate to your leader, to your boss? What needs to be shared with your leader to help him/her understand the area you are leading and stewarding? Here are three things you should communicate to your leader:
1. The Why
When you communicate upward, remind your leader(s) of the why behind all you are doing. If all you communicate is what you are doing, your leader won’t understand the convictions and philosophy beneath the surface. By rooting all the actions and activity in sound thinking, you show that there is meaning and purpose beneath all the work. By rooting the work in a sacred why, you also empower your leader to speak passionately about the area you steward. And if there is not a why beneath all you are doing, you are likely spending time on the unnecessary.
Statistics (data) help give your leader a picture of the overall area you are stewarding. While data does not tell the whole story, it does help leaders understand trends, challenges, and opportunities. Help your leader understand the essential dashboards or data points you are watching as you lead your area. If you bring pages and pages of data, you are bringing way too much to his/her office. And you are simultaneously watching too many dashboards. Too many dashboards reveal you don’t know which ones are the most important.
If you only share stats, you can appeal to the mind and miss the heart. Combine stats with stories so the magnitude of the stats is felt. Stories reveal that there are real lives and real impact beneath all the data. If you are not hearing, sharing, and celebrating stories, your leadership will come off as robotic and mechanical.
As you communicate with your leader, your boss, give the why behind all the activity. As you share a picture of the work, offer both stats and stories also.