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How to Manage Your Career – A Guide to Managing Upwards, Downwards and Sideways

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Good leadership is critical to business success. But what does good leadership mean? Is it all about managing direct reports? Or can you have a greater impact on your career by taking a 360-degree approach?

We explore the research that investigates these questions and look at how you can manage up, down and sideways.

Career Success Depends on More Than Managing a Team

It goes without saying that leaders want to work with people who deliver for the business. Whether you have a team now or you want to become a manager in the future, leading your reports is only part of what you need to do to carve a successful career.

Research from McKinsey shows that leaders can benefit not only the organisation but their own career by influencing upwards and sideways too. Based on a significant piece of research (find the full details here), McKinsey found that managing bosses and colleagues was more important to business and career success than managing subordinates.

That’s not to say that managing a team effectively isn’t important: this is the base that leaders must build from to establish credibility and confidence in managers and colleagues. However, once this is established, you need to stop looking down and focus up and sideways too.

First Things First – Managing Down

Whether you already lead a team or you aim to do so in the future, these tactics will help you be effective. Start by building a strong team: hiring the right people with the right mix of skills and behaviours will create the foundations for strong team performance. And it will give you a firm footing from which to launch your up and sideways charm offensive.

The best managers build on top of this base and focus their teams with objective performance measures while creating an environment of trust that engenders loyalty. That could mean singing the praises of your team to everyone around you, always doing what you say you’ll do and explaining any changes in direction openly and honestly.

This combination frees up the time and space to manage everyone else around you. Without it, you’ll constantly be fighting fires and micromanaging your own team.

Mobilise Your Colleagues – Managing Sideways

No man is an island – and no woman either. Forging strong ties with peers is a great way to get people on side with what you want to do.

Setting out your vision, explaining your plan of action and letting people know how they can support you is critical in getting your peers onboard. As with any sales pitch, a strong narrative can spark interest and energise colleagues to become early adopters. This will create a snowball effect that will carry your projects across the finishing line.

Not only does this help you deliver results, but McKinsey’s research shows that managing sideways has an even greater impact on your future career potential. Particularly for those individuals who can demonstrate an ability to reach across silos and bring people together from different business areas.

Other key tactics include being visible and leaving your desk or office to meet colleagues, listening to their challenges and finding ways that you can work together to solve problems. This approach is also likely to catch the eye of people in more senior positions because you are demonstrating your initiative.

Leaders Lead Leaders – Managing Up

Shortsighted managers can only influence what they see. This makes looking up and beyond your own level of influence a core skill to master.

Take time out of the day-to-day to understand how your role and that of your team sits within the organisation as a whole. Better understanding how you contribute to business growth or improve company performance means you can be more influential in these areas.

And by taking on the perspective of your manager, you’re in a better place to be able to support them. This doesn’t mean nodding along to whatever they think is right. Key to career success is the ability to understand and comment on the big issues that your boss needs to consider.

By providing your own insights and pushback, you can influence and support your boss at the same time. After all, you’re mutually dependent on one another. You need your boss’ support and guidance to carry out your job effectively and your boss needs you to deliver, provide insight and guidance.

Another good rule to abide by is bringing solutions not problems. While you might not have the exact means of resolving a situation, bring a framework to your manager so you can work together to fill in the gaps.

Key to managing this relationship is choosing the right communication style. Adapt your approach to each person – managing up can include influencing other senior stakeholders, not just your boss. And if you find you’re being ineffective view the moment as an opportunity for personal and career growth by finding ways to communicate that work.

Managing up, down and sideways might sound like hard work, but gain support from the right people and you’ll find working life much easier and your future career path paved in gold.