How well do you Manage your Boss?

Managing up is a valuable career strategy

By Charles Waldo

A long time ago, just two years after earning my B.S. in Marketing from Saint Louis University, I was fortunate to be hired by Dick Stull, the wily, very experienced,  relatively new general manager of Sherwood Medical Industries (now defunct) as his Marketing Coordinator (read “gofer”).  At that time Sherwood was the nation’s largest supplier of everything from band aids to beds and much in between to the health care industry, with over 250 salespersons in the field, operating out of ten regional sales and operations offices.  Dick had been the CEO of several mega-hospital systems and the largest trade association for hospitals. But this was his first crack at running a large, public, for-profit supplier organization and the pressure was on to meet some rather ambitious goals.       

I was a willing worker but very green. Luckily for me, Dick took me under his wing and laid out my key responsibilities. He emphasized that he was depending on me to keep him out of unexpected trouble. I would be a significant part of his “success story,” as he would be of mine.  As I soon learned, there was NO ONE who could more influence my “success story” than my boss, whoever it was.


Do’s and Don’ts

About 15 years later, the “Dean of Modern Management,” Dr. Peter Drucker (see endnote), published several articles in prestigious business/management magazines and journals revolving around the topic “How to manage your boss.”  Drucker’s ideas closely mirrored Dick Stull’s, although they probably had never met.

“Most managers,” writes Drucker, “including most CEO’s, have at least one boss. Few people are more important to the performance and success of a manager than her boss. Yet few managers seem to realize how important it is to manage the boss, much less know how or try.” Mike Branson, Exec. VP for Rheem Manufacturing, Inc., and a Fishers resident, commented: “I’ve had a number of bosses of the years and, no matter what I thought of them privately, I always knew I must support them 100% in our collective efforts to deliver on the mission.”

Here are several DO’s and DON’Ts that Drucker suggests bear close attention. Younger readers may never have heard of Dr. Drucker’s many works, but they are as worthwhile today as when first written 25 plus years ago. I hope you will find these ideas useful and will pass them on.  Items in quotes are Drucker’s words. Other comments are mine.

  • “DO realize it is both the subordinate’s duty and in his self-interest to make his boss as achieving and effective as possible.  So go to the boss at least once a year, preferably each quarter, and ask directly: ‘What can I and my people do to better help you in your job?   What additional should we be doing?...Is there anything I/we should stop doing?”
  • “Because the boss is also human (yes, it’s true) she will be ‘different’ than all other bosses.   Ask her what kinds of information she wants from you and how she wants it: Via text or email?   Short and to the point or longer, with lots of details?  Orally?   How often?  And so on.  Don’t guess.”
  • “All bosses have strengths and weaknesses.   Assess what you think his weaknesses are and try to find ways to offset them or make them irrelevant.  Help him use his strengths to their fullest.”
  • “Make sure the Boss is aware of the key tasks, projects, and issues you and your team are working on. Where could you use some assistance? Where should she get involved?  How often does she want updates and in what detail?”
  • “DON’T let the boss be exposed to surprises….even pleasant ones.  Talk with him about  how he wants to get warnings and in what format(s).”    To be forewarned is to be forearmed.
  • “DON’T ever under-rate the skills and effectiveness of your boss, no matter how negatively you size him up.  NEVER talk negatively about your boss (or any boss, for that matter) either inside or outside the company’s walls for it will surely get back to him.” In WWII there were anti-spy posters everywhere saying, “A slip of the lip sinks ships.”  And careers.

Do Dr. Drucker’s points make sense?   “Managing the boss” might not be the best phraseology, but helping your boss become more successful will go a long way to helping YOU become more successful. There is an old saying about career advancement that goes “If you want to get a promotion, help your boss get one.”  Many a younger manager has been pulled into high places by an executive who knows he simply must have you in the office next door.

Make sure your boss knows what you’re up to and find out what she’s doing on which you can be of more assistance. Then help her. Good luck.

Charles Waldo, Ph.D., is Professor of Marketing (ret.) at Anderson University’s Falls School of Business.    He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

*About Dr. Peter Drucker:  b 1909  d 2005.   Escaped to the U.S. from his native Austria just prior to WW II. Taught management and economics until age 92 (!)  at Bennington College,  at New York University and, last at the Claremont Colleges in California. A prolific writer, Dr. Drucker authored over 39 books and hundreds of articles that appeared in the most prestigious magazines and journals. Also, was a much sought after consultant, with CEO’s of major corporations lining up a year or two in advance to get a day with him.  He was not a theorist but wrote about what he observed going wrong and how the wrongs might be corrected.    His relatively thin books, THE EFFECTIVE EXECUTIVE and MANAGING FOR RESULTS, were the most useful to me. None of Dr. Drucker’s books are fast, once-over-lightly reads, but each is full of “good stuff” which is as applicable today as it was when penned three decades or more ago.   Truths do not “age out.”