Managing Up: How Coaching Can Help Senior Female Leaders Turn This Skill Into An Art Form

December 5, 2023

Dimple Sthankiya

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In this post you’ll get the importance of why managing up for women in leadership positions is crucial. And you’ll learn how coaching can help you develop the skills and strategies needed to effectively communicate with your superiors.

Are you only a step or two or three away from the C-Suite? Is this the first time you’ve had this much responsibility around getting BIG results? And are you sh*tting in your pants right now while little Miss. Imposter Syndrome tries to get your attention? I thought so.

Each leadership role brings its unique battlefield. Yet, one stealth skill often left in the shadows, but crucial for you to outmaneuver the corporate maze, is ‘managing up’. This is a critical skill, especially if you’re a woman occupying a senior leadership position.

You might ask, ‘why especially for women?’ Sure, you’ve been trained to be attentive, competent, impactful. But ‘managing up’? It’s often missing. This oversight in leadership grooming leaves many capable women underserved and underprepared. It’s time to fill that gap and for you to seize the reins of top-tier leadership.

Take the case of Mary Barra, CEO of General Motors, who transformed an insular, historically male-dominated company into an innovative player in the automotive industry. Her secret? Masterfully managing up, fostering top-down innovation and challenging long-standing norms.

Coaching Helps You Leverage Your Strengths

So, how do women in senior leadership positions learn to play the game? Enter coaching. Not your run-of-the-mill, one-size-fits-all type of coaching, but a bespoke, hands-on approach designed to turn this skill into an art form. This is not about subservience. Rather, it is about learning to wield influence, fostering robust communication, and creating space for your contributions to shine, regardless of your position in the hierarchy.

Coaching, in this context, is not about changing who you are but leveraging your innate strengths to manage upwards effectively. A coach can provide practical techniques, actionable insights, and, most importantly, the safe space needed for you to explore and evolve your ‘managing up’ strategies.


Managing Up Is Non-Negotiable

This necessity resonates globally. Take Africa, for instance. In this fast-growing continent, where start-ups are sprouting like never before, managing up is a non-negotiable skill. Consider the story of Rapelang Rabana, the founder of Rekindle Learning, a technology company. She credits managing up as instrumental to her company’s success. She once said, “The key to managing up is understanding what your superior needs, and delivering on that, time after time.” This critical understanding, coupled with an open-minded approach to learning, helped Rabana lead her venture to incredible heights.

In the hyper-competitive landscapes of Silicon Valley, managing up is equally crucial. Look at Marissa Mayer, ex-CEO of Yahoo. Her strategic maneuvering at Google and later at Yahoo showcases the pivotal role managing up plays in successful leadership.

The Role Of Coaching In Managing Up Better

The role of a coach in mastering the art of managing up cannot be overstated. A talented coach will guide you in making your voice heard, promoting your ideas, and advocating for yourself. They will teach you to develop a relationship based on trust and mutual respect with your superiors. A relationship where your professional growth is considered as valuable as your contributions to the organization.

Remember, managing up is not just about ‘handling’ your boss. It’s about strategically managing your professional relationships to get things done and achieve ambitious company goals. It’s about learning to negotiate, influence, and communicate effectively to create a positive working environment and culture to get results, fast.

Intersection Of Managing Up And Company Culture

To truly understand the essence of managing up, it’s vital to consider its interplay with company culture. After all, the two are not separate entities but rather, deeply intertwined. A healthy company culture is not just about horizontal alignment, it extends vertically too. The leaders at the top set the tone, but it’s a two-way street. A robust culture of managing up can positively influence the overall company ethos, promoting an environment of mutual respect, shared goals, and open communication.

Think of managing up as the lubricant that keeps the wheels of the company culture running smoothly. When executives, middle managers, and entry-level employees alike can effectively manage up, it ensures that everyone’s perspectives are considered, fostering a more inclusive and dynamic company culture.

Managing Up As A Key Pillar Of Company Culture

In the high-stakes sphere of leadership, understanding the impact of ‘managing up’ on company culture is vital. Not only does it help facilitate open communication and improve work relationships, but it also has a powerful influence on shaping the company culture.

Meet Sara. She’s a senior leader at Salesforce, a company celebrated for its “Ohana” culture — a family ethos that encourages open, respectful dialogue at all levels of the company hierarchy. Sara’s role is not just to direct her team but also to manage up effectively, influencing decision-making at the highest level of the organization.

In this culture, Sara’s management style has a direct impact on the dynamics of her team and, ultimately, the culture of the company. Through managing up, Sara actively communicates her team’s accomplishments, challenges, and suggestions to the company’s upper echelon. In doing so, she helps to shape company policies and strategic decisions that align with her team’s capabilities and insights.

Sara also encourages her team members to communicate upwards, ensuring that their voices are heard and valued. This fosters a culture of inclusivity and mutual respect, where every idea is worth consideration, regardless of where it originated within the corporate hierarchy.

This culture of managing up nurtures an environment of trust, transparency, and collective responsibility. It allows leaders like to leverage their influence and ensure that their teams are not only productive but also feel valued, motivated, and aligned with the company’s direction.

To those female leaders out there, it’s time to harness your power of managing up. Seek a coach, develop this art form, and reach new heights in your leadership journey. After all, you’ve earned your rank. Now it’s time to stack the deck and shift the power balance in your favor. Don’t let managing up be your blind spot. 


My Nugget Of Wisdom

Brené Brown wisely said, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome.” This resonates with me so much, and it’s this vulnerability that can turn managing up into a powerful form of leadership. I’ve seen this first hand so many times, whilst working with some amazing women enroute to the C-Suite.

Approaching those above us with authentic conversations, showing our human side, can be scary. However, it’s in these moments of courage and vulnerability that we build trust and respect. It’s a shift that requires strength and honesty, but the result is deeper connections and way more effective communication.

As a transformation coach, having worked with thousands of extraordinary women in the C-suite and beyond, I look forward to helping you embrace your vulnerability and transform your leadership journey. 

Are You Seeking To Break Free From Your Limiting Beliefs To Better Manage Up?

If conventional coaching methods haven’t delivered results, my personalized, game changing process might just be your solution. Learn more about my ‘Clearing Limiting Beliefs’ approach by clicking below.


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