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There are three management skills that are essential to career success in almost any organization: managing up, managing down and managing across. Up, down and across. Think of these skills as balls a manager must constantly juggle during their daily interactions.
One of the first management skills we learn is “managing up”. We all start out with a boss, and those of us who survive get good at keeping that person happy.
Early in my career I had a lion of a manager who once roared some wise advice in my direction: “When your manager needs something, it moves straight to the top of your priority list!” The lesson I learned is that what interests my boss ought to fascinate me. It’s the only way to tame that lion.
Eventually, you become a boss yourself. Managing staff (“managing down”) is a career milestone. Young employees look forward to the time when they can crack the whip and others will hop to satisfy them. Soon however they discover it’s actually hard work to keep staff members motivated and productive.
The dirty secret of management is that the power bestowed by your title is actually quite limited. The people who work for you are volunteers. They choose how hard to work and they can choose to ignore you, or leave, at any time if they’re not satisfied with your leadership.
Managing across the organization, tests your ability to build trust and to influence others since you wield little or no organizational power with your colleagues. Everyone’s had a taste of managing across while working in groups but this skill becomes essential when you’re part of a permanent management team.
The success of an organization depends on how well the management team works together. If even one of its key members acts with self-interest rather than concern for the organization, the management team can easily become dysfunctional as it tilts from cooperation to competition between members. Conversely, a high-performance management team is a daring trapeze act with members taking risks for the sake of the organization, secure in the knowledge that their colleagues will be there to catch them.
To be a good manager you need to be able to rotate easily between managing up, down and across depending on the situation. It’s quite a juggling act but top performers become the stars of the show in the center ring of their organization.