The (deliciously delayed) pernicious effects of “managing up”
I will confess that when I started my career, I couldn’t get past the horror of networking.
A natural introvert pretending to be an extrovert, making friends in a room of strangers holding glasses of tepid wine was not exactly my natural habitat, and yet my confusion went much beyond personal discomfort. My bafflement went much beyond small talk being my personal hell.
Seriously, how can this be effective?
How can these perfunctory acquaintances be in any way usable and useful?
It was a matter of great relief when I realised that they are not, actually, usable.
Not as such.
That networking events are there for people who already know and like each other to hang out and catch up and maybe introduce friends to each other in a “I vouch for this man” way.
Networking is about networks, not cold calling
I have this rule when I travel for conferences that my friends know well.
And the rule is: no new friends after 6pm.
There is method to my madness.
Conference-going is sociable work and, if you are there as a speaker and representing your company, chat you must. With complete strangers, with people who heard your presentation or are interested in your solution. It’s what you are there for. It is good. But for people like me, it is exhausting. And if I must do it all week, I must find ways to recharge. The gym. A book. And no new friends after 6pm. That is all my way of doing it.
But when a friend says, “it’s time to break the rule”, you break the rule, because you know they know both why the rule is there and what you value so what they bring is a gift, not a nuisance.
Human relationships form networks and within those networks we provide support and introductions and ideas and cookies and hugs and friendship and business support and you name it. Within the networks there is a network effect.
But those gifts are not there for every Tom, Dick and Harry I have had a glass of tepid corporate plonk with.
And I am sorry to say you are probably doing networking wrong if you are looking up and across for the people you should say hello to, conflating them knowing your name with building relationships that will constitute a network down the line.
You are worrying about the wrong things
I have had the following conversation with young colleagues way too many times. It goes like this.
Hello Person A. We have had a bunch of complaints from colleagues and a client or a senior person that your behaviour is not ideal. Passive aggressive, unreliable, pushy or flaky (delete as appropriate).
Needless to say, it’s not a good or easy conversation to have.
And invariably, Person A is mortified.
Because someone senior is telling them they have egg on their face.
And invariably, Person A is worried about what the client and senior folks think. Less so about the colleagues.
Even though the people who will matter the most for the longest are neither the clients (who will be placated because the organisation is geared to survive and unhappy clients are not conducive to survival) nor the senior people (for whom Person A is a footnote and they definitely have bigger fish to fry).
The people who matter the most are always the colleagues. The trench buddies who will have your back today, the people who trust you today and will be the references, industry contacts, bosses and investors and backers of tomorrow.
Careers do not always move in a linear fashion
I was not always a decision maker, obviously.
And most of the people I served in the ranks with are still not decision makers.
It is in the nature of pyramids not to make space for everyone as you climb. Fewer and fewer folks make it to the next level up. When looking at your peers, are you sure you can pick the winners, the survivors, the decision makers of tomorrow?
Because the thing about managing up is considering your peers expendable and your juniors irrelevant is an extremely short-sighted and frankly stupid way of looking at the world. Being a good colleague is not just a decent thing to do. It’s also a clever thing to do.
Those who are good at managing up tend to either only do the things that top management can see, only do the things that top management value or just self-promote across that vector. The peers, however, see it all. Not in an omniscient way. More in a “they are there when the sausage is made” way, or a “they see your less flattering angle” way. They are there on the bad days. They see the false starts. They see how you work, what you do, what you don’t do, how you do it and what corners you cut. If managing up is about cherry-picking what you do, the peers see what remains undone. If managing up is about story-telling your own relevance, the peers know who and what you left out of the telling.
So manage up at your own peril because not all careers progress in step and the people you treat as expendable today may be your most valuable asset tomorrow.
Or would have been, if you had treated them better.
There is an outsourcer I will say “no” to before their name is fully out of anyone’s mouth. I faced into them as a junior analyst in a very large tier-one bank many years ago and they treated both us (their junior client touchpoints) and their own workforce like utter trash. It was intentional, consistent and deliberate. And although they are not alone in behaving like this, I was at the receiving end of it and their firm will never see a penny from any budget I manage or have ever managed or influenced. Across decades and organisations, we are talking a lot of money here.
There is a former colleague who went out of their way to be a bit of a shit to me and my team for the two years we worked together. And then I resigned and he had a better look at me and thought, “oh, now she’s not a competitor for management head-space, we should be friends”. No thanks.
He actually asked me for help to get his next role.
Oblivious that knowing someone and vouching for someone isn’t the same thing.
So exactly because the people who know you best (your colleagues) are the people whose opinion matters and because the people you share your present with will eventually be the people your future depends on, don’t network.
Don’t manage up.
Don’t treat your trench buddies like they are expendable and your industry colleagues like they are just another LinkedIn connection.
Be a good colleague at all times and at any cost. If not because you are a good person then because you are a smart one. Because managing up will come back and bite you in the ass. Maybe not today. But definitely tomorrow, when the person you are trying to manage up to used to work alongside you and can see right through you.
Leda Glyptis is FinTech Futures’ resident thought provocateur – she leads, writes on, lives and breathes transformation and digital disruption.
She is a recovering banker, lapsed academic and long-term resident of the banking ecosystem. She is chief client officer at 10x Future Technologies.
All opinions are her own. You can’t have them – but you are welcome to debate and comment!