Chances are, you know about “managing UP.” The art of managing a mercurial, distracted, at times unavailable and often unpredictable boss. If you have worked in the corporate world long enough, you have likely taken a class on this essential leadership skill.
Hint: Know their priorities. Speak their language. Anticipate their needs. Be truthful and don’t BS them. Contract properly at the end of a meeting. Just a few of the essentials.
Chances are, as well, that no one in your class spoke about “appreciating UP.”
You appreciate the folks on your team. You do your best to express this appreciation. You may forget and you may not do it perfectly, but you know that it’s a good idea.
Chances are, you do little to explicitly appreciate your boss. It’s a potent influencing behavior, and yet, the senior executives I coach consistently don’t do it. Bosses rarely receive a word of praise or appreciation. From anyone. Yes, it’s lonely at the top, in more ways than one.
The reason for our lack of explicit boss-appreciation? Chances are, we cling rather tightly to a bunch of subliminal anti-appreciating-UP stories. These stories tend to run something like this:
1. I don’t want to waste their time.
My boss’ time is precious. I want to be prepared, get to the point, and show that I respect how busy s/he is.
Fact: Your boss is a human being with feelings, no matter how efficient her or his outer demeanor may be. The longing for appreciation is universal. Expressing appreciation is never a waste of time. Do not conflate being efficient with not expressing an important thought or feeling – which includes appreciation.
2. I don’t want to sound like I’m sucking UP.
I’ve watched other people suck up to Senior Leaders and it just looks and sounds so totally obvious. I don’t ever want to become one of THOSE people!
Fact: Even when it looks like sucking up to you, chances are your boss appreciates hearing it. Dump the phrase “sucking up” and supplement it with the phrase “expressing genuine appreciation.” That’s what we’re talking about, after all. If your appreciation is heartfelt, your expression of this appreciation is an act of honest communication. Withholding the comment is an act over unnecessary filtering. You are choosing to be less authentic by not communicating an appreciative thought.
3. My boss is uncomfortable with overly personal chit-chat.
I don’t want to cross any personal boundaries with my boss or get into a conversation that becomes too private and which I will later regret.
Fact: Praising someone’s idea, expertise, or accomplishment is as safe as a professional conversation gets. It’s entirely about work. Your story about not getting too personal is likely about your discomfort in offering a personal remark to someone with high Position Power, not about that person’s discomfort in receiving such a remark from you.
Krista Tippett, the host of NPR’s consistently inspiring “On Being” radio program, chats with renowned British poet and organizational advisor David Whyte about leadership wisdom (Tippett, On Being, 4/7/2016). “Being a leader,” Whyte affirms, “means being visible, all the time. It means truly showing up and not simply going through the motions of showing up.”
Being visible, fully showing up, includes noticing our appreciative thoughts AND having the courage to express them. To anyone. It also suggests we appreciate UP, discomfort and all.
If someone who reports to you offers a compliment or thanks you for something well done, you appreciate it, don’t you? You remember the comment, right?
Act in kind. Express your appreciation, in every direction. That includes UP.