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I’ll go anywhere for good tacos.

It’s not a great business strategy, but, when it comes to eating Tex-Mex, I’ll organize my business calendar around speaking opportunities. That’s how I wound up in Austin, last week, at the Texas Conference for Women speaking to an overflow room about managing up with an author named Mary Abajay and a panel of smart women who had smart advice to offer on the topic of “managing up.”

To my right was Christy Schumann, a technology leader and fabulous woman who isn’t on the speaking circuit but should be asked to speak at your next women’s leadership conference. To her right is Alice Rutkowski, a fearless and funny body language expert. At the far right is badass leader Mary Abajay. To my left was Chelsie Baugh, a corporate communications manager and wonderful emcee.

I was there because Alison Green, also known as Ask a Manager, couldn’t make it and needed a friend to step into her spot on the dais. Since tacos and loyalty motivate me, and Torchy’s has an excellent version of migas on a flour tortilla, I said yes.

Nothing about the trip disappointed me, including lunch.

Mary asked me, “How do you manage disagreement or conflict with your boss?”

I said, wow, you can write a Ph.D. dissertation on that one. Here’s where I stand on conflict: You are the chief relationship officer of your life. It’s up to you to find common ground and offer solutions. Adulthood requires developing negotiation skills and salesmanship skills. That’s code for maturity, mindfulness, and the ability to de-escalate. When it comes to disagreements, I have always followed the Obama doctrine, which is that if neither person gets exactly what they want, you’re probably doing okay.

Mary also asked, “How do you know when the relationship isn’t going to work?”

There are so many warning signs that people ignore until it’s become too late. You get to tell people how they treat you, and it’s over if someone undermines you just once, berates you just once, lies to you just once, harasses you just once, throws you under the bus just once, disrespects your identity just once, bargains in bad faith just once.

If any of those things happen just once, your company is telling you the price of employment includes your supervisor’s crappy behavior. And you can’t manage up when the climate of your company is toxic. Get out. HR is not swooping in to do anything. And as the chief relationship officer of your life, it’s time to ask yourself — why am I working in a place that doesn’t value my dignity?

Of course, some HR ladies in the crowd didn’t like that answer. They stood up and assured me that, in their company, they lead with a culture of accountability and respect and dignity. I can neither confirm nor deny that one of those HR ladies works for a company that recently employed Robert Scoble, but what I can say is that very few HR professionals in America should feel comfortable talking about leadership and respect, right now. Yes, front-line HR managers care about values and ethics. But executive HR leaders still struggle with getting business done while employing leaders who don’t always behave with integrity.

So, anyway, that was an awkward exchange with an HR lady, and I tried to be respectful. “Great that you have such a good experience in HR. Thanks for sharing.”

Moving on, I was asked for best practices on managing multiple bosses.

I was like — good luck with all that. People are stuck in heavily matrixed organizations, or they’re in the gig economy and have fifteen bosses. That’s no fun.

But, remember, you’re the chief relationship officer. When you have multiple stakeholders, slow down. Nobody gets fired for asking questions twice. When you communicate important information, you can ask the question, “How does what I just shared make you feel? What am I missing?”

And document everything, which is the ultimate HR answer, but correct.

Then we took questions.

That’s when things always get depressing because people say they love their jobs but stand up at microphones and tell the most depressing stories about work.

“My boss is a micromanager.”
“I’m on a team where nobody listens to me.”
“How do you repair a relationship when you’ve let down your boss.”
“My VP told me — you get a paycheck, why are you complaining?”

I’m not an empath, but my heart breaks whenever I hear these stories. One woman was told to pay her dues. When you work for an asshole like that, you’ve got a choice: you pay those dues or you leave. If you stay, you keep that memory close and, when you finally get promoted, you remember how you felt and never ask anybody who works for you to pay their dues.

For every unkind action at work, you make a memory. Do the opposite when you’re in charge. But the key is to stick it out, not opt-out, and fix work.

I left the audience with one final message: There is nobody who is going to fix work for you. Not to steal from Obama one more time, but you are the change that you’ve been waiting for. Want to fix work? Fix yourself. Live a remarkable life that transcends petty bullshit with your boss, be a leader, and fix work for the next generation of individuals who will rise up the corporate ladder after you.

Then the panel ended and I high-tailed it over to Torchy’s. Not a bad trip to Texas, right? Wish all my speaking engagements offered good conversation and delicious food!

One Response to How to Manage Up
  1. Ginger Galloway

    Sometimes reading your posts seems like going to mini-therapy. This phrase resonated with me completely – “Why am I working in a place that doesn’t value my dignity?” This is one reason why I am now self-employed. I was one of those HR ladies who loved her job but had a laundry list of things wrong with it. Everyone has free will and I decided to leave and move on. I’m still fixing myself but do I like myself a lot more!